Where science meets magic and fun meets education!

Maxwell's Spinning Top

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(Code: 1109)
An amazing physics toy...

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This spinning top was originally designed by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell over 100 years ago as a device to demonstrate the strange properties of rotating bodies to his physics students. Specifically, Professor Maxwell wanted to be able to show, as convincingly as possible, that a gyroscope will always react at 90 degrees to an applied force.

When this massive brass bell-shaped top is spinning an interesting stability can occur - push on the stem with an object (like a pencil) and the top will push back, forcing the stem against that object, and friction will cause the stem to roll along and trace the edge of the object.

In this design the stem will trace along the edge of a metal spiral, clinging to it like a magnet - but magnets are NOT involved here. The key to this design is to make the contact point/tip of the top at its own centre of mass, then any frictional force in contact with the stem will produce a torque about the contact point at right angle to the direction of friction that creates the stabilizing force (students of physics may recognize application of the right hand rule here). An extreme physics toy! 

If you look closely, you will see a slight difference in behaviour, depending on which direction you spin the top. Spin it in one direction and the metal tip holds closely to the spiral as it reaches the centre, and switches to the other side of the spiral. Spin it the other way and the metal tip separates briefly from the spiral, when it reaches the centre. 


Assembly will take 10-15 minutes. There are six screws, all of which are fastened with the supplied Hex key (Allen key). Full instructions enclosed.  

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Customer reviews
Shopping Satisfaction
Maxwell's precessing top very interesting and instructive, and Tim's demonstration piques one's curiosity. I have found it difficult to get the top to move through as many cycles as Tim's shows; perhaps one third as many is the best I have yet achieved. Moreover, unlike his silent top, mine makes rather a grinding noise in operation. I have tried to alleviate this with light application of oil, but this did not improve matters. Any tips or additional advice from the experts welcome!
John Douglas H.
Hi - Page 11 of the instructions shows how the pointed end at the bottom of the spindle should rest in the dimple in the base (or journal as it is called). If the top is not spinning for long as it should, and is also making a noise, this is probably where the problem lies. I find it is sometimes helpful to hold the whole top upside down in order to make sure that the brass top is properly seated in the dimple.

Please can you let me know how you get on.
Shopping Satisfaction
I'm so happy to have this Maxwell top. It's mesmerizing. A great addition to my spinning to collection and really stands out.
Kip C.