The beads all repel one another, and arrange themselves in a way that clearly shows the effect of gravity — the beads at the bottom are closer together than the ones at the top, forming a beautiful mathematical progression.
Push down on the top bead, and then let it go. The ring shoots up into the air, and sticks to whatever ferromagnetic surface it hits, such as a filing cabinet or refrigerator. The effect is non-linear. Adding one more bead makes the top bead go farther than adding the previous bead did.
There are two configurations we like to play with. In one, we glue a bead to each end of the rod, with eight (or more) beads in the middle. This form allows us to stick it to the refrigerator, and peel it off like a zipper.
If you let it stick to the refrigerator, then pull the top or the bottom, the magnets bunch up at the other end. Then peel it off, and they jump back one by one into the original sequence.
It’s mesmerizing just to turn it upside down again and again, and watch the beads orient themselves, flowing like water down the rod.
The second form is the Ring Launcher. In this form, the rod is glued into a hole in a block of wood, so it stays upright (or at a 45 degree angle if you want maximum horizontal range).
You can launch the rings at steel targets, or have competitions or battles between two launchers. Or, you can glue a bead to the top, and just play with it on your desk, shooting the beads up to the top, where they are silently repelled back down by the top bead.
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