Wobbling plate, Feynman and computer simulations

April 1, 2007

Title: Feynman’s wobbling plate

Authors: Slavomir Tuleja, Boris Gazovic, Alexander Tomori and Jozef Hanc

Source: American Journal of Physics, Vol. 75, No. 3, pp. 240–244, March 2007

Abstract: In the book Surely You Are Joking,Mr. Feynman! Richard Feynman tells a story of a Cornell cafeteria plate being tossed into the air. As the plate spun, it wobbled. Feynman noticed a relation between the two motions. He solved the motion of the plate by using the Lagrangian approach. This solution didn’t satisfy him. He wanted to understand the motion of the plate by analyzing the motion of its individual particles and the forces acting on them. He was successful, but he didn’t tell us how he did it. We provide an elementary explanation for the two-to-one ratio of wobble to spin frequencies, based on an analysis of the motion of the particles and the forces acting on them. We also demonstrate the power of numerical simulation and computer animation to provide insight into a physical phenomenon and guidance on how to do the analysis.

Internet resources: Java applets and supplementary information

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