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Extra Credit Essay

The Gadget Craze of 2017: Torqbar- the Pioneer of Fidget Spinners


INTRODUCTION:
In this essay, the topic is on recent applications of classical physics applications within
the past two years. This essay will discuss fidget spinners and they were first commonly known
as a Torqbar, an expensive desk toy or gadget for those with disposable income. There were a
few early attempts to produce and distribute this toy. They became incredibly popular in April
2017. The earliest inventor , Catherine Hettinger, had her proposal rejected back in 1997 by
Hasbro. Her patent expired in 2017. (Miller) However for the sake of focusing on the successful
endeavors and recent applications in classical mechanics, the essay will discuss the most
successful business owner of these contraptions. The creator, Scott McCoskery, first designed
the Torqbar in 2015 but it was not until 2016 when he opened his business as MD Engineering.
A year after selling his Torqbars to the public, they became a coveted gadget for the rich. Forbes
magazine declared them “a must have office toy for 2017.” They started to sell them for $130
and even could be as expensive as $400.(Williams) The ones who could afford it, requests their
own custom made Torqbar at their desired colors and materials at prices over $700. According to
tomsguide.com they almost instantly became the biggest trend of 2017. They transcended from
the hands of bored office workers into the curious hands of elementary children. Schools began
to ban the use of fidget spinners as they were distracting in the classrooms. In 2017, Amazon’s
top seventeen out of twenty best sellers in the Toys and Games department were fidget spinners.
(Williams). The other three top twenty toys were fidget cubes that also claim to relieve stress.
(Miller) There are now 18,500 results when one types for fidget spinners in Amazon! (Calfas) As
of today, July 30, 2018, there are four hundred pages in Amazon under the search of “fidget
spinners!” They even had a presence overseas and the toys were banned in some parts of the UK
in 2017. The students claimed it helped their ADHD or any other attention disorder they had. But
instead, it caused a distraction in the classroom and distracted others from concentrating on their
schoolwork. Because a UK director of Centre for Autism said that objects that spin or twists can
help balance the autistic children, parents and children alike have used this claim to support the
usage of fidget spinners in and out of the classrooms. (Singh) Thankfully, psychologists and
mental health experts have not supported this claim and they stress that fidget spinners have no
scientific evidence or consistent studies that support the claim in that fidget spinners are a
therapy for those with attention disorder or autism. (Calfas)
Description of Fidget Spinners: This gadget is a small object with a few blades of equal sides
and length centered around a small 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch circular center. Fidget spinners vary in
size but they are generally about 10 centimeters in diameter. It is at this circular center where the
player or person holds the spinner. Holding this circular center with one’s thumb and index
finger, the blades are then pushed with the other hand. The blades spin in a propeller like fashion,
much like how a helicopter’s blades move. The spinning motion of the blades are either
wonderful and soothing to watch and listen to, or they can be equally but opposite in effect: It
can be considered annoying and of a nuisance to teachers in the classroom. The fidget spinner
does create a sound and they are not considered by some soothing at all especially when there is
the risk of slipping out of the person’s hand. Injuries can occur such as hitting oneself in the face
or even worse, hitting a friend in the eye who is sitting far from fidget spinner. When one opens
the circular center, one will find little small ball bearings inside a cavity in one side of the fidget
spinner. The small balls measure about 2-4 cm in diameter. There are about 10- 15 small ball
bearings inside. These ball bearings only touch the inner radius and outer radius of the recessed
circular cavity that houses them. This ring that holds them is called a bearing race. There is the
inner and outer bearing race. This eliminates or reduces friction as much as possible but friction
still exists. In theory, a fidget spinner could spin for a very long time until an external force such
as wind resistance or friction from the walls of the bearing race acts on it. Eventually, a fidget
spinner stops spinning. There are videos on youtube on how to make them spin longer (which
doesn’t work) and they also have competitions to see whose fidget spinner spins longer. They
usually spin for a few minutes. But some fidget spinners advertise that they can spin for as long
as 6 minutes!
Fidget Spinners and its connection with Classical Mechanics:
What makes fidget spinners spin? The short and incomplete answer is its ball bearings.
However there are quite a few physics laws that are applied to this eye catching gadget.
Newton’s First Law of Motion says that in the absence of an external force, when viewed from
an inertial frame, objects stay in rest or go into motion. In this case, the external force that puts
the fidget spinner into motion is the person’s finger. The finger applies a force in the direction of
the desired spin. The first law is applied to the concept of Gyroscopes. They are like a small
gyroscope which undergoes gyroscopic precession. According to google’s definition of
precession, “ it is the slow movement of the axis of a spinning body around another axis due to a
torque or gravitational influence.” Because of exponential decay, a fidget spinner will not spin
twice as fast or twice as long if on exerts a greater force on it. The speed of the fidget spinner
decreases by a large factor. To test out the hypothesis that the spin time would increase with a
greater initial velocity, experiments were done. It was discovered in one experiment that
doubling the initial speed would only delay the fidget spinner’s spin time by less than 25%.
(English). The time increase of spinning definitely relies on the force and torque it is given to the
blades. However, it doesn’t rely on force itself but the actual decay “ life” of the fidget spinner.
How can one define decay of a fidget spinner? One decay period is simply when the spinner’s
speed halves from its original speed. Using different materials to reduce the static friction can
also prolong the fidget spinner’s spin. Using stainless steel on steel is the most common type
used in the bearing race. However, some manufactures use other materials such as ceramic
bearings housed in a steel bearing race, commonly called hybrid ceramic, or full ceramic
bearings made from silicon nitride. The bearing race itself can be from steel, ceramic, or plastic,
all which provide different cons and pros. Steel being the common one, has a higher friction with
steel than ceramic but it is cheaper. Ceramic bearing provides a longer and higher speed due to
its lower static force but it is more expensive. The bearing race can be sealed to protect the balls
from dirt and dust accumulating inside, all which can increase the friction force and slow down
and decrease the fidget spinner and its life. An open bearing race can allow the user to open the
fidget spinner and remove any dust and dirt inside the bearing. So now that the First Law is
discussed and it is now known that the fidget spinner will not move unless a force is applied to it,
and it is time to explore the next topic.
This is when Newton’s Second Law of Motion comes in. The Second Law states that the
acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the total force that is acting on it and it is also
inversely proportional to its mass. (Serway & Jewett) The way to make it spin is by exerting a
force onto one of its blades. The twisting force is torque which is applied to a place, the blades,
which are far from the spinner’s center of mass, the circular center. The heavier the blade is, the
longer it should spin but it will require a greater force. To figure out the angular velocity and to
see how long it spins, rotational kinematics must be revisited. To describe theta, , at any point
along one of the blades, it is the angular position from the circular center. As it continues to spin,
theta changes and this effects the angular velocity such that omega, , is the change of theta over
the change in time or  = /time. As the fidget spinner is slowing down from its initial speed
the angular acceleration, alpha, is the chance of omega over time or it can be written as : = /
 time. Doing an experiment to determine its angular velocity requires a laser and a laser or light
sensor. The fidget spinner spins and interrupts the stream or path of the laser. The light sensor
then retrieves this information into a chart of the light value versus time. The experiment seemed
flawed because it did not account for the different number of blades sticking out of the fidget
spinner. However, adjusting for this obstacle brings information of frequency of the spin cycle
and calculating the angular velocity from this. There are even phone applications to calculate the
frequency which can be divided by the number of blades that the tested fidget spinner has.
(English) Hence, radians/second can be compared with time and it is a negative slope. The chart
can be located here: https://plot.ly/~RhettAllain/1790.embed
Newton’s Third Law of Motion: The Third Law states that when two objects interact,
there is an equal force onto the initial force. Simply put, there force that is put onto object two is
the same in magnitude and size as the object two’s force output is. The previous paragraph
explained that the frequency is related to the angular momentum. The fidget spinner will
continue to rotate on uneven surfaces like a person’s fingertips. The fidget spinners can even be
stacked on top of each other. The uneven surface of the center tilts the center of axis and its
center of mass. The force of gravity pulls down on the fidget spinner’s center and then the
angular momentum changes. To explore the Third Law of Motion, as one spins harder and
harder on the fidget spinner, air resistance around the spinner works at the same magnitude to
reduce the rotation of the spinner. By putting more mass towards its edges, the fidget spinner has
a higher moment of inertia and spins longer compared to a fidget spinner with much shorter
blades. It also applies Moment of Inertia. Students can use the fidget spinner as a pendulum and
the parallel axis theorem to calculate moment of inertia.
CONCLUSION: Although the first fidget spinner was invented in the 1990s, the fidget spinner
was not produced publicly and manufactured for sale until 11/2016 with private pre-sales prior to
11/2016. Also, it was not known to the public until early 2017. Hence, this popular new gadget
was chosen for discussion of Classical Mechanics. This gadget explores all of Newton’s Laws of
Motion. It explains that the spinner will not move unless a force acts on it and that it will stay in
motion unless an external force acts on it. The external forces here are static and kinetic friction
of the ball bearings in the baring race. It also takes into account how different materials provide
lower static friction than others such as steel compared to ceramic. It introduces the idea of
gyroscopic precession and how the right hand rule is taken into effect. The direction of spin is
the direction of the torque that is applied to the blades. The fidget spinner displays conservation
of angular momentum and its rotational velocity stays the same until an external force acts on it.
Balancing on another fidget spinner or on the uneven surface tip of the finger or the friction
between the ball bearings and its bearing race are all situations where unbalanced forces come
into play. It is interesting to note that fidget spinners explore topics in Physics beyond the Laws
of Mechanics such as its speed relative to the speed of light and also its usage in places where
there is no gravity; both subjects beyond the scope of Physic 1A. Although this was not
discussed in the essay, here is a very interesting link posted by Nasa: Fidget Spinner spinning in
space: https://youtu.be/82t9Tk9dUHs

REFERENCES:
Calfas, J. (2017, May 04). Fidget Spinners: What are They? Where Can I Buy?\ Money/ Retrieved
July 29, 2018 from http://time.com/money/4766890/fidget-spinners-what-to-know/

English, Trevor. “Understanding the Physics of Fidget Spinners.” Interesting Engineering, 12


Mar. 2018, interestingengineering.com/the-physics-of-fidget-spinners.

Miller, Joshua Rhett. “Woman Who Invented Fidget Spinners Isn't Getting Squat.” New York
Post, New York Post, 9 July 2017, nypost.com/2017/05/05/woman-who-invented-fidget-
spinners-isnt-getting-squat/.

Serway, R. A. Jewett, J. W. & Peroomian, V. (2019) Physics for scientists and engineers,
Boston, MA, USA: Cengage.

Singh, A. (2017, May 17). Fidget spinners: What is the new craze banned in schools across the
nation? Retrieved July 29, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-are-fidget-
spinners-new-classroom-craze-banned-across-nation/

Williams, A. (2017, May 06). How Fidget Spinners Became a Hula Hoop for Generation Z.
Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/style/fidget-spinners.html

The Original Fidget Spinner. (2018). Bearings explained - The Original Fidget Spinner. [online]
Available at: https://originalfidgetspinner.com/en/onderhoud/kogellagers-uitgelegd/ [Accessed
30 Jul. 2018].

https://torqbar.com/pages/press