Toddler does physics-art

By Marcus Wilson 29/10/2014

As we all know, a scientifically-minded toddler plus a piece of technology can lead to unexpected results. This is the result of Benjamin playing with a retractable steel tape measure at the weekend. How we came to break the case apart I don't know, but the results are pretty (the cellphone shot in poor light doesn't do justice to the artwork): 





I like the koru-shape made by the end. The measure has curled itself into a complicated form rather reminiscent of a protein structure, with sections of helices and straighter lengths. Although the mechanisms are different (protein structure has a lot to do with the intricaces of chemical bonding) the physical process is similar –  the structure works itself to a local minimum of energy. Just how this happens  is all rather complicated from a physics perspective. Perhaps the most obvious example of twists of this form is in telephone cords. The phenomenon has even lent its name to a type of structure seen in thin films – the 'telephone cord buckle'. Unfortunately Benjamin didn't give me any warning about what was going to happen – otherwise I'd have filmed it (and he would probably have retreated to a safe distance – the whole unravelling was pretty energetic). 

BUT…since Karen is an occupational therapist and has accumulated large numbers of free tape measures as corporate freebies in her career, we could maybe spare a few for high-speed filming.