If you want to mess with your head, without putting illicit
substances in your bloodstream (or while, we won't judge you), there are
few things better than an optical illusion. A pseudoscope lets you view
the world through the lens of Escher; or rather, in simpler terms, it
swaps what you see with your left eye with what you see with your right
eye, bringing the background forward, and pushing the foreground back.
It will mess with your perception, man!
Ever wanted to see an atom split? Using a spinthariscope, you can. Invented in 1903 by Sir William
Crookes, they contain a tiny amount of radioactive material — in the
case of this one from United Nuclear, that material is Thorium, which is
naturally radioactive and is permanently sealed within the device.
the Thorium decays, it expels exploding particles (they can't penetrate
the casing, don't worry), which emit a tiny flash of light when they
come into contact with a sheet of Zinc Sulfide, directly above the
Thorium. You can peer through the lens that is affixed to the top, to
see teeny tiny nuclear explosions in action. Cooooool.
You can read more about the history of the spinthariscope here.
Curiosity is using a spectroscope up on Mars to analyse the chemical
elements it finds, but you can make a simple one using materials you
have around the home. A spectroscope is an instrument that is used for
examining light waves; more specifically, which parts of white light are
absorbed by elements. Each element has its own spectral "fingerprint" —
scientists study these fingerprints to determine the make-up of stones,
gases and other elements.
Field's metal — or Gallium — is an element with a very low melting-point — 29.77 °C, to be a little more exact. That is below the average human body temperature, so you can melt it just by holding it in your hand. It doesn't occur in nature, but it can be found in trace amounts in bauxite and zinc, and is also a by-product from the production of aluminium and zinc.
We're not really sure what you can do with it, but it seems like a really cool thing just to have and play with — and we particularly like the trick of handing a guest a spoon cast made from Gallium to use in a hot drink.
Updated:Caption:Michelle StarrPhoto:Gallium crystals image by foobar, CC BY-SA 3.0
Flame colouring chemicals
This one might be a bit difficult to obtain, but it will make your campfire look real snazzy while you're grilling a sausage. Each of the five chemicals changes the colour of flames.
This one might be suited more for those days when you need to get
your super-spy on, but wouldn't it be awesome to arrange a romantic date
where you give your partner UV clues to meet you somewhere, adding an
astral telescope for a night of stargazing? You can have that one; that
one's on us.
Gyroscopes — which we mostly discuss in relation to the
motion-detection capabilities of smartphones and other gadgets — are
devices that measure orientation. After developments over around 90
years, the gyroscope, as we more or less know it today, was developed by
mathematicians, and has remained pretty much unchanged since then for
larger applications (smaller devices, such as the iPhone, use a
Micro-Electro-Mechanical chip). They're also pretty fun to watch —
seeming to defy gravity as they, to quote mathematician Lewis Carroll out of context, "gyre and gimble". Read about how they work on How Stuff Works.
Orreries are absolutely gorgeous things. Remember in The Dark Crystal,
Aughra's observatory, where she had a working model of her solar
system? That's what an orrery is. It shows the relative positions of the
Sun, the planets and, in more complicated models, other bodies in the
solar system (although, not to scale, for obvious reasons), on
overlapping rotating arms of varying length. They mostly operate on
clockwork — you wind them up and watch how the planets move across the
sky in relation to each other.
Remember the zoetrope from activity books when you were a kid? It's
basically a way to make an animated image. The slits in the "crown" mean
that when you spin the zoetrope, you can see inside, kind of like
quickly walking past fence palings.
The lower strip is where you
can draw your animation images in a series of incremental movements,
like you would in a flip-book. When the zoetrope spins, it goes too fast
for you to pick out individual images, creating a very simple
Maybe it's not particularly mad-science-y, but it is mad fun.
Updated:Caption:Michelle StarrPhoto:Zoetrope image by Andrew Dunn, CC BY-SA 2.0
Why would you want just a boring old Earth globe, when you can have a levitating
Jupiter globe? Or Neptune? Or even the mighty Saturn? Heck, why not collect them all?
If you're feeling a spark of something special right now, that's probably because of the Wimshurst machine in the picture above — a device that generates static electricity. You might be more familiar with the Van de Graaff generator from high school science — but the added bonus of this particular Wimshurst machine is that you can make it yourself, using easy-to-find components. So not only do you get the benefit of a really cool gizmo, you can satisfy the hobbyist in yourself with a DIY project. Win.
We've all heard about telescopes for viewing far-away stars, but what
about one for getting up close and personal — and without burning your
eyes? The Sunspotter is a folded-Keplerian telescope that lets you view a
three-inch image of the sun on a white screen to view solar activity,
such as storms and spots. It'll cost you a few pennies, but watching the
Transit of Venus live? Priceless.