What is the PhiTOP? It is a prolate ellipsoid with a highly specific ratio of length/width. It is a unique spinning top. It is a beautiful kinetic artwork. It is an elegant miniature sculpture. It is an effective stress reliever. And it demonstrates a bevy of scientific concepts from disparate studies in the field of physics.
The PhiTOP is very intentionally designed, and its shape is one that has been used by scientists for a variety of experiments across time. Spin it on a hard smooth surface while it is lying on its side. By placing the thumb of one hand on one side of the long axis and the index finger of the other hand on the opposite side, you can get a good grip on the top and maximize its spinning momentum; you'll need plenty of it to get the desired effect! If you spin the top fast enough, it will seemingly defy gravity, rising from its horizontal positioning, and orienting itself vertically upright as it spins. It's bizarre to behold, as it defies the expectations of the observer, demonstrating that science can sometimes look a whole lot like magic. The set also includes a concave mirrored surface to help you get the hang of your spinning technique. Makes an excellent conversation starter, and a great and unique gift for all ages.
Electrodynamics - Although the PhiTOP is made of solid non-magnetic aluminum, by bringing a magnet near to it while it is spinning upright, the PhiTOP will slow down. This is a nice example of Lenz's law. It is the inverse of Nicola Tesla's "Egg of Columbus" demonstration that played an important role in the triumph of AC over DC electricity at the end of the 19th century. That demonstration used 3 phase AC current to produce a time-varying magnetic field which would spin up a copper metal egg-shaped object
Lissajous Figures - As the PhiTOP begins to settle down in its motion, if there are lights sitting above it, the images reflected off the surface take on beautiful time-varying patterns. These are examples of "Lissajous" figures. They are usually produced by the use of oscilloscopes, or by employing coupled pendulums in a device called the "harmonograph."
Gelatinous Ellipsoid Effect - In the 19th century, the sceince of the visual perception of color, motion, lightness and form was called "psychophysics." The great 19th century physicist Ernst Mach was the first to discuss what can be called the "gelatinous ellipsoid" effect in which a slowly rotating egg (generally called an "ovoid" shape) can appear to distort, seeming to act as if it were a mercury-like or gelatinous substance. A controllable app showing a 2D version of the effect can be found on the "Project LITE: Light Inquiry Through Experiments" web site: http://lite.bu.edu
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