When you have a 14-story tall dome at your disposal, sometimes you get to create some fun science experiments. One of those is on display at the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University.

The physics department has set up a huge pendulum near the center roof of the dome that will swing back and forth. People are encouraged to interact with the pendulum to show the conservation of energy, as the 25-pound barbell is handled by members of the department. Or they can hop on and get a ride on the pendulum and experience the physics phenomenon personally.

What’s interesting is the timing of the experiment — right in the middle of NMU’s laptop distribution.

“(This is) to entertain people,” said Dave Donovan, a physics professor at NMU. “Parents show up with their college students who bring their younger siblings and this gives them a chance for the siblings and even the parents to have a little fun. Of course I get to talk a little about the physics along the way as well and explain how things work.”

The pendulum has been regularly occurring at laptop distribution for about 15 years. It also makes appearances at Kaleidoscope and other special events. The anchor system is also apart of the rappel system used by the NMU Army ROTC program that brings down the game ball at football games.

Pendulums like this are a common site at museums, where the pendulum will knock down cards or other objects once a year. Donovan said this recreates the Foucault experiment.

“Foucault hung a pendulum from the Eiffel Tower in the 1800’s to demonstrate that the earth rotates, because when we stand on the earth, we can’t tell it’s turning. When I first got here in ’92, the Dome was fairly new and largest wooden dome, so we hung this pendulum. The point is that the pendulums path changes over time,” Donovan said.

Justin Carlson also gave us a first-person view of what it was like to swing on the pendulum.

Leave a Reply