May 26, 2010

Harmonograph experimentation

I've wanted for a long time to build a proper rotary harmonograph. One with gimbals and everything, pretty much like this one here (which is pure awesome), but it's a project that requires some time, some tools and some money, so it's been on the back burner for well over a year. I figured I needed to stop waiting and just make something that although not fabulous, would at least amaze the kids and not cost us anything.

I decided to opt for a solution based on this set up here. I didn't have a step ladder to use though, so I hung our dumbells from a beam in the garage. I just made a simple set up that was evenly weighted for the kids to try out. You can get different patterns if you offset the weights.

From one side of the dumbells I taped a paint stirrer with some pvc plumbing bits that would loosely hold a big fat marker pen, and on the other side of the dumbell I taped a metal ruler that had a couple of hacksawed bits of random tubing that would hold a regular sized felt tip pen. I figured this way the kids could experiment with different pens. You have to have something that doesn't grip the pen tightly because it needs to be able to move up and down freely in order to maintain contact with the paper.

This set up stayed in the garage for about a month with various sets of kids having a go at it and coming up with different works of art. The pattern that it formed was quickly referred to as "the watermellon pattern".

I do want to do this again with a better set up, but that's just the geek in me wanting to create a set up where you can fully and easily vary all the parameters, so that the kids can explore what effects those changes have. I'd like to try making one where the pen is static and the table moves before we try a set up where both do. I wonder if I'll ever get around to it. I have the attension span of a goldfish it seems!

The kids really did seem impressed with the set up and seemed fascinated by the rather hypnotic motion of the pendulum as it drew. They also loved the word "harmonograph" rather a lot too. I guess it sounds sciency. I like the idea of introducing "science concepts" in ways that pique their curiosity. So I guess this was an introduction to simple harmonic motion and pendulums without any mathamatics or pressure to do anything other than have a bit of fun.

If you want to involve some splatty paint to make pendulum art then check out Teacher Tom's pendulum painting art attack.

17 comments:

toasted said...

Pure awesome-ness here. What I want to know, seriously, is how you think through the set-up of these things when you have wee, curious fingers poking into everything?

Heabe said...

Wow! I love that! So creative!! The kids must have been fascinated for ages watching it - I would have been!

MustangShelby said...

I am hypnotized over here! I need to bring Samuel over and let him play with that thing. He will be fascinated. So awesome!

Watch out, your brains are showing. ;-)

MaryAnne said...

This is very cool! I've considered trying to make one of these several times, but haven't figured out how to get it to work. Not sure I could do it now, either, but I'm very impressed with yours!

Teacher Tom said...

KM, you might be the coolest person I know! Of course, now I'm going to have to try to make one of these. I actually have some of those weights in my cellar. Now back to study your pictures. Thanks yet again for the inspiration!

maxie said...

crazy! you guys are incredible! you need a book deal or your own tv show or something!

Deb said...

Oh, wow, that is AMAZING!!

Sherry and Donna said...

Oh my goodness this is really cool and like Tom I WANT ONE NOW TOO!!!

Arborescence said...

Very Cool. I want to make one now.

budafist said...

The harmonograph is way cool.

laminathegreat said...

The link doesn't work! I want to see how to make one and the link doesn't work!!

Kitten Muffin said...

Oh no! that's sad. I checked it and yeah, not working :( It was quite a lovely description with great examples and lots of yummy math too. I hope it's only temporarily gone or the author puts it up some place else in the future.

Jonathan said...

Hi everyone, I'm the author of the site with the original setup unfortunately my site was taken down by my alma-mater (less than a week ago). I will do my best to put it back up somewhere but in the meantime the way-back machine will take you there.
Anyway great job! I see you have improved on the design of the pen-holders.

Ms. Erin's HeartRoom said...

OOO I totally want one now! Thanks for sharing!

Kelly said...

Seriously would you be mom...
I just want to afirm you today that your daughters will change the world with open minds, tinkering brains, and unbridled creativity. I love all your ideas and crafts, and mostly because they never have the normal boundaries of crafts and nothing is hands off for the kids. Kudos to you!

lindyb said...

I remember doing this at a children's museum when I was little (a very elaborate technical set up). Like you, my dad said "we can do that at home, easy." We used a marker taped to the bottom of a plastic milk crate suspended from a rafter. Thanks for the flashback. My own kids would love this!

Rachel said...

Stunning :) love it