The Alternate Scientist

Building a Hamel Spinner

"You can't play pool with this...or even marbles. Why do you have this big weight on it? And who is that yelling on the radio?" Mike asked as he picked up the little green ball.

While Mike stared at the ball, I turned off Brother Stair.

"That," I said as silence descended, "is a Hamel Spinner."

"Yelling on the radio?"

"No," I snapped. "In your hand!"

"Oh," said Mike. "Who is Hamel and why does he spin?"

"David Hamel is... well, let's just say he's an eccentric. You can do a search on the Internet to find out more about him," I replied. "He created this little toy as a proof-of-principle device.

"Mine is made from a Radio Shack 64-1888 Round ceramic magnet attached to a small plastic ball with a brass bolt. Most people use a steel ball and simply let the magnet hold itself to the ball. I didn't have a steel ball so I did it this way."

"I'll bite," quipped Mike. "What does it prove?"

"That we don't know as much about magnets as we thought." I stated pompously.

"Maybe you don't. But I know if you stick a magnet on a piece of iron or steel it picks it up," boasted Mike smugly.

"And you just proved my point," I added even more smugly.

"Wipe that smug-ugly grin off your face, will you, and show me what it does," he demanded.

"OK, OK. Now this is a Bedini Magnetic Gate," I replied picking up my Bedini Magnetic Gate.

"Should I even ask?"

"It was created by John Bedini. This particular construction was suggested by J. L. Naudin on his excellent website. It is a shorth length of three inch PVC pipe with fourteen Radio Shack 64-1879 ceramic magnets fastened around it with a couple nylon cable ties. All the north poles are facing inward by the way."

"Does that mean if I look through it can I see Santa Claus?" he asked taking it from me and holding up to his eye.

"It does not!" I replied coldly and retrieved the Magnetic Gate. "Please put the spinner on the table and hold it upright." He did so and I held the ring of magnets over it then told Mike to let go of the spinner.

"Hey, It spins!" observed Mike as the round magnet and ball began to slowly rotate.

"And what did you expect a spinner to do?" I asked him sarcastically.

"Oh, I don't know... maybe jump up and down." he replied even more sarcastically. "I know I would if I were at the middle of the North Pole.

Sometimes I despair of Mike.

"The reason I find it interesting," I said despairingly, "is that two radially symmetric magnetic fields produce rotary motion in the spinner, much like Howard Johnson's Stonehenge motor which I believe is a Hamel spinner in reverse. But why?"

"If you figure it out, let me know," said Mike.

"I am trying to figure it out," I told him, "and if I do you will be the first to know. You will observe that the ring magnet must be tilted slightly to get the spinner rotating. And the spinner itself wobbles a good bit."

"I observed that," agreed Mike observantly. Maybe it has something to do with the one magnetic field rotating.

"No," I disagreed, "Faraday proved with an elegant experiment that the magnetic field of a magnet rotating on its polar axis remains stationary..."

After a few moments Mike said, "You're not moving. Did you have a stroke or an idea? The symptoms are the same."

"Hush," I said, "I'm thinking."

"And I thought that smell was somebody burning old tires."

"Hear me out," I said ignoring him. "The Earth is a giant magnet rotating approximately on its magnetic axis. So if the magnetic field remains stationary, that means that the surface and everything on it is moving through that magnetic field very fast. Now how can we, first, prove it and, second, do something useful with that information?"

"You tell me." demanded Mike.

I am still thinking about it.

Tom Hunter (N3CRK), 06 DEC 2000