Science Method

Gonzo Gizmos

Low-rent science hacks

My favorite amateur science experimenter has gathered the coolest hacks from his website into a browseable book. Here Simon Field tells you how to use disposable trash to make very small versions of hi-tech machines — like a Van de Graaff generator, or magnetic train gun, or what he calls a plastic hydrogen bomb. The secret to the fun and enlightenment is to keep everything very small — which makes it cheap, fast, and safe.

There’s lots more amateur exploration at his wonderful website, but this plain book (black and white printing) contains a fine selection of his best stuff, and is great for an introductory gift.

-- KK 10/26/20


In the previous two projects, we stole high voltage from a television set to power our high voltage motors. In this project we will build a device that can generate 12,000 volts from an empty soda can and a rubber band.

The device is called a Van de Graaff generator. Science museums and research facilities have large versions that generate potentials in the hundreds of thousands of volts. Ours is more modest, but is still capable of drawing 1/2 inch sparks from the soda can to my finger. The spark is harmless, and similar to the jolt you get from a doorknob after scuffing your feet on the carpet.

This very simple toy uses a magnetic chain reaction to launch a steel marble at a target at high speed. The toy is very simple to build, going together in minutes, and is very simple to understand and explain, and yet fascinating to watch and to use.


My review of Simon Field's website, Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids, is here:

Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2005 — editors)

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