Electricity and Magnetism

Strange Attractor

A one-meter long pendulum performs a strange chaotic dance. Visitors set a pendulum in motion, yet it does not behave like a simple pendulum because it is tipped with a strong magnet. On the table beneath it are three strong magnets oriented to repel the bob. Visitors position the three magnets about on the table to produce different chaotic paths; they also choose the starting position and speed of the pendulum. The sensitive dependence of motion on initial conditions is a property of chaotic systems. The name Strange Attractor was given to this exhibit because due to arrangements of the three table magnets, the pendulum will come to rest at different locations depending on where and how the pendulum is started. These final states "attract" the pendulum. This behavior is similar to that of mathematical strange attractors.

  • Chaos
  • Energy Transformation
  • Non-Linear Behavior
  • Pendular Motion
  • Randomness