# Newton's Cradle office desk toy

• techmologist
In summary, the conversation discusses the workings of a Newton's cradle, a device that demonstrates the principles of conservation of energy and momentum. The participants question whether gaps between the balls or their touching at rest affects the transfer of energy and momentum. A helpful Wikipedia page and videos of large-scale models are provided as resources for understanding elastic collisions. The conversation concludes with the suggestion to check out a website that addresses questions about the cradle.
techmologist
How does this work? I know energy is roughly conserved. But why, for instance, doesn't the one metal ball bounce back off the others when it hits, and all the other balls move slightly in the other direction? Is it because the balls are separated by a thin gap?

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techmologist said:
I know energy is roughly conserved.
Not only energy but also momentum. Taken together it follows: If a moving mass elastically hits an identical resting mass, it transfers all momentum to it.

A.T. and TurtleMeister:

Thank you. Sorry I forgot to mention in the OP that I know about elastic collisions. I understand that, at least during the collision, momentum is conserved along with energy. But then the strings pull the balls into a circular path.

In the picture there are five balls. If you pull one back and let it smash into the other four, it transfers all its momentum and energy, and the ball on the other end pops off with that same momentum. But this would not happen if we replaced the four identical balls with one ball which has four times the mass. The first ball would bounce back off the heavy ball without transferring all its energy.

I'm wondering if there are small gaps between the five balls or if they are touching when they hang at rest. If there are gaps, that would at least explain what happens when you pull back one ball. It slams into the second ball (the first one at rest), transferring all its momentum and energy, which in turn slams into the third ball, etc. But what about when you pull back two balls and release them? Would you expect two balls to transfer all their energy and momentum to the first ball at rest. That would seem to violate conservation of momentum and energy. But I think that in reality the two balls do transfer all their momentum and energy to the remaining three balls (whether or not it is transferred to each one successively, I don't know) . And somehow two balls pop off the other end with the same momentum the incoming two had.

I know this satisfies the conditions of conservation of momentum and energy, but it doesn't seem like the only possible result that could satisfy those conditions. So how is the momentum and energy communicated from one end to the other?

techmologist said:
I'm wondering if there are small gaps between the five balls or if they are touching when they hang at rest.
Not sure if the gaps are needed. Video of a large scale model, here you can see that the ball does bounce back a bit, and that it's not perfect, with gaps bewteen some balls and not the others.

techmologist said:
In the picture there are five balls. If you pull one back and let it smash into the other four, it transfers all its momentum and energy, and the ball on the other end pops off with that same momentum. But this would not happen if we replaced the four identical balls with one ball which has four times the mass. The first ball would bounce back off the heavy ball without transferring all its energy.
techmologist said:
I'm wondering if there are small gaps between the five balls or if they are touching when they hang at rest.
It makes no difference whether the balls are touching or not. As long as each ball is able to freely rebound off the other balls, the action will be observed.
techmologist said:
I know this satisfies the conditions of conservation of momentum and energy, but it doesn't seem like the only possible result that could satisfy those conditions. So how is the momentum and energy communicated from one end to the other?

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techmologist said:
But what about when you pull back two balls and release them? ...(whether or not it is transferred to each one successively, I don't know).
You can see it as happening successively. The inner of the two pulled balls, kicks off the most outer ball on the other side. Then the outer pulled ball impacts and kicks of the second ball on the other side.

TurtleMeister said:
It makes no difference whether the balls are touching or not. As long as each ball is able to freely rebound off the other balls, the action will be observed.

That is a fantastic link. It is as if the author read my mind and knew what questions I had. The rest of that website looks interesting, too. Thanks!

Jeff Reid said:
Not sure if the gaps are needed. Video of a large scale model, here you can see that the ball does bounce back a bit, and that it's not perfect, with gaps bewteen some balls and not the others.

That is a very cool demonstration with the "duck pin" bowling balls. thank you.

## 1. How does a Newton's Cradle work?

The Newton's Cradle works by demonstrating the law of conservation of energy and momentum. When one ball on the end is lifted and released, it transfers its energy to the next ball, causing it to swing out and then back. This continues until the energy is transferred to the last ball and the first ball comes back to hit it, starting the process over again.

## 2. What is the purpose of a Newton's Cradle?

A Newton's Cradle is often used as a desk toy for entertainment, but it also serves as a demonstration of physics principles such as energy conservation and transfer of momentum.

## 3. How many balls are typically used in a Newton's Cradle?

A Newton's Cradle typically has 5 or 7 balls, although there are versions with more or less. The number of balls does not affect the physics principles demonstrated.

## 4. Can a Newton's Cradle be used as a scientific tool?

Although it is not typically used as a scientific tool, a Newton's Cradle can be used to demonstrate the laws of energy and momentum, making it a useful teaching aid in physics classrooms.

## 5. Is a Newton's Cradle a perpetual motion machine?

No, a Newton's Cradle is not a perpetual motion machine. The energy and momentum eventually dissipate due to friction and air resistance, causing the balls to eventually come to a stop.

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