Sep 10, 2012

What a Slinky Knows

"Hey kids," said physicist Tadashi Tokieda, "Wanna see a magic trick?" He pulled out a Slinky and did something that amazed the kids, & their dad Steve Strogatz. Steve, along with Neil deGrasse Tyson, explains what the gravity-defying Slinky trick reveals about the nature of all things great and small (including us).

If you've played with a Slinky for more than five minutes, you've probably mastered all the classic moves. But it turns out those humble coils have a surprise up their sleeves. Do this:

1) Dangle a Slinky above the ground as though you were holding a fish by the tip of its tail.

2) Let it extend to its full length.

3) Let go.

For a fraction of a second, something amazing happens: the bottom of slinky hovers in midair, seeming to defy the laws of physics, while the top collapses toward it.

The reason the bottom just floats there, according to Steve Strogatz, is simple: it hasn't gotten the memo yet. We're not just being cute here. Information flows have a lot to do with how our physical world works. And this little experiment, when extrapolated out, might reveal some pretty surprising truths about... well... everything. From anti-tank weaponry, to what would happen if the sun suddenly disappeared, Steve and and our astronomical friend Neil deGrasse Tyson help us unravel the implications of the "wonderful toy." The bottom of the Slinky, friends, is us!

Also check out:

Steve Strogatz's new book The Joy of X

And this slow-mo video of a falling Slinky...

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