The New York Times

WATCH: What Makes This Metal Chain Spray Up Like a Magic Fountain?

The anti-gravity flow of this metal chain managed to stump physicists around the world when it went viral. So what in Newton's name is going on?

FIONA MACDONALD
21 NOV 2014
 

A chain of metal beads spraying out of a container against gravity looks spectacular, but as this New York Times video explains, the physics behind it is even cooler.

 

A few years ago, footage of the phenomenon went viral, and physicists at Cambridge decided it would be a perfect problem for high school physics students to work on- that is, until they realised they themselves weren't quite sure what was going on. They even found that it doesn't just happen to metal - the same thing happens with a chain of linked noodles.

But as New York Times science writer James Gorman explains in the video, there's actually quite a rational explanation.

In the slow motion footage above, you can see that when the chain is first dropped from its container, it is pulled down by gravity, just as you'd expect. But then it starts to spray up in a rising curve like a fountain.

It turns out that this is because chains essentially act like connected rods - if you push one end up, the other end goes down.

In this situation, as the moving chain pulls one end of the link up, and the other end tries to go down, it runs into the pile of chain beneath. The kick-back then pushes that link up instead, creating a fountain.

So while it may look like magic, it's all Newtonian physics. And that's even cooler.

Source: The New York Times

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