Euler’s Disk

Leonhard Euler

Euler’s [oi-lers] disc is a scientific educational toy, used to illustrate and study the dynamic system of a spinning disk on a flat surface (such as a spinning coin).

This phenomenon was first noted by Swiss physicist Leonhard Euler in the 18th century, hence the name.

A popular, modern variant is manufactured and distributed by the Toysmith Group of the Damert Company and was invented by Joe Bendik. The toy consists of a heavy, thick chrome plated steel disk and a slightly concave, mirrored base. The disk, when spun on the mirror, exhibits a spinning/rolling motion (or ‘spolling,’ a blend of ‘spin’ and ‘roll’), slowly moving through different rates and types of motion. A spinning/rolling disk ultimately comes to rest; and it does so quite abruptly, the final stage of motion being accompanied by a whirring sound of rapidly increasing frequency.

On several occasions during the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike Conan O’Brien would spin his wedding ring on his desk, trying to spin the ring for as long as possible. The quest to achieve longer and longer spin times led him to invite MIT professor Peter Fisher on to the show to experiment with the problem. Ring spinning in a vacuum had no identifiable effect while a Teflon spinning surface gave a record time of 51 seconds, corroborating the claim that rolling friction is the primary mechanism for kinetic energy dissipation.

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