10 Oscillations

LEGO Pendulum Clock to Demonstrate Oscillation Concepts

This is the Pendulum Clock from the LEGO Education Simple and Powered Machines Set. It can be used to demonstrate the variation of period with length of pendulum and is a very good visual representation of the escapement mechanism.

There are many other models that one can build using this set, including a weighing scale, elastic energy powered car, etc. All with potential for class demonstrations.

You can buy a set from Duck Learning in Singapore at (S$329.75), an exclusive distributor of LEGO Education products in Singapore. If you are purchasing in bulk for your school, you may want to contact them directly for a package deal. You can also purchase them from overseas sites such as Bricklink.com if you can find them at a better price.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

This is a video that we usually will show during a lecture on the topic of Resonance, under the unit “Oscillations”.  It was taken in 1940 at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington, USA. One of the main reasons (not the only reason – the other being aeroelastic flutter) for its collapse is the effect of resonance, which occurs when the driving frequency of the wind that hits the bridge matches the natural frequency of vibration of the bridge.

Tuning a Guitar using Resonance

There are many ways to tune a guitar. Many musicians would have tuned a string instrument using a tuning fork at some point. However, the conventional method of tuning with a tuning fork is by listening to beats while adjusting the tension of the string. The tuning fork is of a known frequency which corresponds to a note. For instance, 440 Hz corresponds to an A-note. When the A-note string is slightly out of tune, such as having a frequency of 438 Hz, the resulting sound pattern (called beats) will have a frequency that is the difference between the two frequencies, i.e. 2 Hz. Hence, the aim of tuning by listening to beats is to adjust the tension of the string until the beats disappear.

An alternative method, which is the one we shall attempt in this demonstration, is to run the vibrating tuning fork along the E-string (this first from the top) until you reach the bridge between the 5th and 6th frets. You should expect to hear a loud resonating sound there. Otherwise, adjust the tension until you do.

All the other strings are tuned with respect to that first string.


Resonance is the phenomenon where the frequency of the tuning fork (driving frequency) is equal to the frequency of the string (natural frequency) and maximum energy is transferred from the tuning fork to the string. The string will hence oscillate with the maximum amplitude.


Resonating Pendulums

The purpose of this demonstration is to teach the conditions and effects of resonance.  Our setup includes three sinkers hanging from a rod. I give credit to my colleague Alan Varella for showing me this demonstration when I first started teaching.

What I do with my class is that I would jokingly announce that I can use telekinesis to cause any sinker to oscillate at will while keeping the others still. This provides some entertainment and after I do the first demonstration, I can even challenge one of them to try to do the same or ask the class for suggestions on how the phenomenon can be repeated.


  1. 3 fishing sinkers or pendulum bobs,
  2. Some nylon string,
  3. A rod of about half a metre’s length.


  1. Tie each sinker to a piece of string of varying length and then tie the string along the rod at roughly the same distance apart.
  2. By holding the rod at one end so that the three sinkers dangle in front of your hand, you can begin to move the rod slightly and slowly at first. The hand should be moving so little that it goes unnoticed.
  3. Gradually increase the frequency of the slight hand movement and when you see the sinker with the longest line begin to start oscillating with larger amplitudes, stay at that frequency.
  4. Once you are satisfied with the oscillation of the first sinker, you can try obtaining resonance with the other two by starting over again with a higher frequency this time.

Science Explained

Resonance occurs when the frequency that you are driving the rod with is now equal to the natural frequency of the sinker on a line. Meanwhile, the other two sinkers do not oscillate as obviously as the one with the longest line.

Resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at larger amplitude at some frequencies than at others. A simple example will be a child on a playground swing being pushed by her friend standing at one end of the swing. If the friend pushes the child on the swing every time the swing reaches one end, more energy is being introduced each time, causing the child to swing higher and higher. Notice that a swing will always oscillate about the same frequency, with the weight of the child making little difference. At these natural frequencies of oscillation, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude oscillations.

For the case of the sinker-and-line system, the frequency f at which resonance takes place for each sinker should be given by the formula


where g is the gravitational acceleration and L is the length of the line.

Hence, the pendulum with the longest string will resonate at the lowest frequency among the three.