Three of our Upper Sixth IB students have been investigating the physics of pendulums, but not in a way in which you might expect! As a result of their interest in Engineering, the boys created a 13-metre-high pendulum to increase accuracy as a longer pendulum swings for a much longer time period. The pendulum was so high that the rafters of the Great Hall was the only place to suspend it, which the boys installed with the help of the school’s maintenance team.
The experiment, which was one of a selection of ‘pre-uni’ courses, was conducted with the help of the Head of Physics, Dr Liz Palmer, who explained that when an object (a pendulum) is hung from a fixed point it will swing back and forth under the action of gravity without any extra outside help until friction (between the air and the pendulum) slows it down and eventually stops it.
The boys were specifically investigating how pendulums can be used to determine the value of acceleration due to gravity ‘g’. It was not only their equipment that was unusual, but their locations too. Felix Barth and Maverick Cheung conducted the experiment out of the Great Hall here in Bedford, while Ryan Tse worked remotely in China to determine whether they could detect the slight variation in ‘g’ due to latitude.
The boys will continue to investigate whether we can use the set up as a Foucault’s pendulum* which is when the plane of the pendulum swing shifts as the earth rotates.
* The Foucault pendulum or Foucault’s pendulum is a simple device named after French physicist Léon Foucault and conceived as an experiment to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation. The pendulum was introduced in 1851 and was the first experiment to give simple, direct evidence of the Earth’s rotation.