When I was a kid, my brothers and I often found ourselves riding around town with our Grandma. She generally drove a little too fast and more than a little recklessly, to put it mildly. For a lark, those of us riding in the backseat would exaggerate the effects of centrifugal force whenever Grandma took a corner too fast (which was always), flinging ourselves as far as our seatbelts would allow into the turn.
My bros and I are now grown, and some of us have kids of our own, but Grandma’s no longer fit to drive (not sure she ever was to begin with, *a-wink*). So, to demonstrate centrifugal force in a considerably more safe way, I found this fun experiment that you can do at home—no barely-under-control 1970s Chevy station wagons required!
A Hanger & A Coin
As the above header suggests, all you’ll need for this experiment is a plastic clothes hanger and the coin of your choosing. (And at least one finger.)
First, the easy part: hang the hanger by its hook over your index finger. Next, and slightly more difficult, balance the coin on the bottom bar of the hanger. It’s completely understandable if you need help with this part.
When the coin is good and balanced, start rocking the hanger back and forth on your finger—slowly and gently at first, but building up speed and momentum as you go. Once it’s really swinging, give it the full loop-de-loop and spin the hanger in a circle around your finger.
At this point, if you keep the speed consistent and the swinging motion relatively smooth, the coin should stay on the hanger, even going all the way around the loop. That’s centrifugal force, baby!
¿Y La Ciencia?
Centrifugal force is created by rapid motion in a consistent direction—in this case, the hanger going around in a circle. Centrifugal force works to move objects in the direction of that motion. Here, the coin is held to the bottom of the hanger by centrifugal force, which is trying to push it out from the center of the spin. If the hanger’s bottom bar wasn’t there, the coin would go flying off into the ionosphere. (Maybe not quite that far.)
Once you slow down the spin, or abruptly alter the direction in which the hanger is moving, the coin will break the surly bonds of centrifugal force and fall off the hanger.
- 365 Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials, E. Richard Churchill, Louis V. Loeschnig, Muriel Mandell, and Frances Zweifel, 1997. ISBN 978-1884822674