Newton's Wheel

How are rainbows formed? Why are there always seven colours? Who is Roy G. Biv? These were some of the questions Room 5 asked as we followed the instructions to make a Newton’s Wheel.

And who is Newton? He is Sir Isaac Newton, a mathematician and physicist that lived over 300 years ago. He is responsible for us knowing the laws of motion and the law of gravity. He also created a wheel that demonstrates how white light is actually made up of all the colours of the rainbow (which are primary and secondary colours). By spinning the colours on the wheel very quickly, the eye naturally combines the spinning colours and sees the wheel as if it were white.

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Our class certainly had to practise to get the wheel to spin that fast. Once it got going, it made a whooshing sound and you could feel the air coming off it. That was the best time to see the white.

There were lots of skills involved in building Newton’s Wheel:

  • Creating a circular shape

  • Dividing the shape into sixths

  • Ordering the primary and secondary colours correctly

  • Making centre holes for the string

  • Tying knots

  • Figuring out the hand movements needed to get the speed up

  • Completing a POE (predict, observe, explain) document to capture our thoughts before, during and after the experiment.

This activity allowed the students to explore and describe everyday examples of physical phenomena, such as light. With regard to the nature of science in the New Zealand curriculum, they were able to ask questions, find evidence, explore simple models, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations.

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Xavier: The primary colours are red, yellow and blue. The secondary colours are orange, which is red and yellow, green, which is yellow and blue, and purple, which is red and blue.

Chelsea: Mine shows brown. My colours aren’t bright enough because I used pencils.

Rhea: Does it matter where the colours go on the wheel?

Donald: I think it will mix and make brown or maybe white. (After the experiment: I knew it would be white!)

Petra: I thought sixths was six lines but I actually only needed three lines.

Cohen: The spinning was hard. I got better, though, and then it was really whistling.

It was exciting to see the Key Competencies of thinking, managing self, and participating and contributing in action.

Please have a look at our video and watch as we work on improving our spinning skills.

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Keywords: Newton’s Wheel, Phunky Physics

Curriculum links: Science L3 - Physical World / Nature of Science

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