Strange Attractor: Observe Chaotic Motion

Source Institutions

Source Institutions

Add to list Go to activity
Activity link broken? See if it's at the internet archive
In this activity, learners can observe chaotic motion. A magnet tied to a piece of string makes a pendulum, which swings over three sets of fixed magnets. The force of gravity plus magnetic attraction and repulsion combine to influence the pendulum in very complex ways, resulting in unpredictable motion. Two hallmarks of chaotic systems are unpredictability and a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Ask learners if they can think of any other systems that are chaotic!

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A ring stand and a clamp
  • 4 to 6 ceramic magnets (available at Radio Shack)
  • Paint, masking tape, or correction fluid
  • Fishing line or string


  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
      • Projectile Motion
      • Center of Gravity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Sources:

  • NEC
  • NSF
  • California Department of Education