Science Museum of Virginia


We took a trip to the science museum, where there were a number of exhibits, including one about gyroscopes, where you can spin a chair by tilting a spinning wheel. I’m going to talk about that exhibit.

At the science museum, there is a gyroscope exhibit, consisting of a rotating chair, and a flywheel in a mounting rack. This rack has a motor, attached to a metal rod, which spins the flywheel up to a high rotational speed, turning it into a gyroscope. You then lift the gyroscope, and, by tilting it (with some difficulty), you can cause the chair to spin. This is the same effect used in reaction wheels, a device used in spacecraft to change attitude (in layman’s terms: spin around) without using reaction mass (AKA fuel). The chair and flywheel allow you to experience the same forces as a spacecraft using reaction wheels, except much stronger. Spacecraft use multiple wheels on different planes, and perform attitude adjustments by spinning them up and down, not by tilting them. This application of a gyroscope is less complex, but produces far less rotation. However, the same law is being used in both cases: the conservation of angular momentum. Gyroscopes are also used in what are called “inertial navigation systems”, which use them to detect rotation. This information, along with that from an accelerometer (which measures acceleration), is used by a computer to track your current location.

So to sum up, the science museum has an exhibit on gyroscopes, which demonstrates the same law of physics as is used in spacecraft reaction wheels! I think that’s pretty cool, which is why I chose to write an article on it. The rest of the science museum was also quite neat, but that particular exhibit stood out to me more than the others.

Virginia Science Museum in Richmond, VA.


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  • […] example, we were gifted (gotta love grandparents!) our annual membership at the Science Museum of Virginia. Don’t tell Grandma, but I looked it up, and it cost about $100. Among other benefits, such […]

  • […] The Science Museum of Virginia is located in the old Broad Street train station just west of downtown Richmond, VA.  The museum (directly next door to the Children’s Museum of Richmond) has ample parking and features an IMAX theater, live science exhibits, astronomy programming in The Dome and many specialized educational events and activities on a regular basis. Thanks to our $100 membership at the Science Museum of Virginia, we are members of the ASTC Passport Program which allows us free admission to over 300 science and technology centers worldwide. Otherwise, admission is free for under 4 and active duty military, $10 for kids 4-12 and seniors 60+ and $11 for 13 and up. […]

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