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How to Collect Data from a Fidget Spinner and a Photogate

Animated GIF of fidget spinner spinning

By Dave Vernier

Like most people, I have heard the buzz about “fidget spinners”, so I could not resist buying one and taking some data with it. Here is a graph of data collected using Logger Pro, LabQuest Mini, and a Photogate.

Graph of a fidget spinner slowing down
A fidget spinner slowing down

To set up the experiment, I placed the fidget spinner on a LabQuest Mini so that the spokes trigger the photogate as the spinner spins.

Experiment setup with Photogate, LabQuest Mini, and fidget spinner

I opened the Pendulum Timer.cmbl file found in Experiment Files > Probes & Sensors > Photogates, which is included with every copy of Logger Pro. I chose the pendulum experiment file because I wanted to measure the time from the leading edge of one of the three spokes to the leading edge of the next spoke and wanted to skip the hole on each spoke.

The graph shows the period, which in this case is proportional to the inverse of the angular speed of the spinner.

Other things you could graph:

  • The angular speed of the spinner as a function of time—use that to determine the angular acceleration of the spinner to estimate how long it will spin from any starting speed.
  • Peak speeds as you start the spinner with different techniques—what technique gives the highest angular velocity?

There are lots of good discussion of the science of fidget spinners on the internet. Here are two articles by Rhett Allain, author of Geek Physics, and a 3D-printed photogate mount Steve Dickie designed for collecting data from fidget spinners.

Can I preview Vernier equipment before purchasing?

If you are considering incorporating our technology into your classroom or laboratory, we offer a 30-day preview (or longer, if needed) for most of our products.

To get the most out of your preview, we recommend pairing the preview with a free one-hour, web-based training session with one of our specialists.

Contact Vernier Technical Support at support@vernier.com or 888-837-6437 to arrange a preview and a web-based training session.

Quantifying Sources of Systematic Error in Video Analysis Experiments

John Zwart, Kayt Frisch, and Tim Martin, Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA

Video analysis experiments have strong potential to reinforce student learning and build intuition; however, in the intro physics lab, students often find experimental values that are substantially different from the expected results (e.g., a curve-fit derived value for g of 11.59 ±0.02 m/s2 for a tossed golf ball). Despite giving students specific instructions for setting up video equipment, we frequently see poor experimental results. This suggests that small variations in the experimental setup produce significant systematic errors. We investigated what happens when students deviate slightly from two specific tips: “place a ruler, meter stick, or other scale item in the same plane as the motion being recorded” and “position the camera so the line of sight is normal to the plane of motion.” We also investigated the effect of different focal length choices, specifically a wide-angle setting (shortest focal length, widest field of view, objects appear smaller) and a telephoto setting (longest focal length, narrow field of view, objects appear larger).

To investigate the “place a ruler, meter stick, or other scale item in the same plane as the motion being recorded” tip, we used an array of meter sticks and measured distance relative to the center meter stick (Fig 1). We found that when using the wide-angle setting, an object placed 40 cm in front of the reference meter stick would appear 40% larger than its actual size, while an object placed 40 cm behind the reference meter stick would appear 20% smaller than the true size. The effect diminished to 10–15% for the normal and telephoto settings. For a student’s experimental setup, this means that the apparent distance traveled by a tossed ball would appear longer or shorter than the actual distance.

Meter stick array used to investigate motion in a different plane than the reference length.
Fig 1: Meter stick array used to investigate motion in a different plane than the reference length. The middle meter stick was used as the “true” reference length.

We investigated the second tip “position the camera so the line of sight is normal to the plane of motion” by drawing line segments on a poster board (Fig 2A) and placing the camera at a distance that filled the field of view for each lens setting. We rotated the camera so that the right side of the board was closer to the camera (Fig 2B) and measured the apparent length of line segments at the corners of the board compared to the reference length in the center of board. We observed that this error results in size discrepancies of nearly 20% when using a wide-angle setting, though it was less of a problem at the telephoto setting (Fig 2C). For a student’s experimental setup, this means that the apparent distance traveled by a tossed ball would change as it moved across the image.

 The line segment array used to investigate non-normal-to-the-plane motion.
Fig 2A: The line segment array used to investigate non-normal-to-the-plane motion

Our results show that significant systematic errors can occur for relatively small deviations from ideal camera/reference placement, particularly when using a wide-angle lens. If you use a zoom lens, standing farther away and using the telephoto setting will reduce the likelihood of these types of systematic errors. When using a fixed lens that is wide angle (such as a typical cell phone), you need to be particularly careful when setting up the video collection equipment.

Top view of the camera angle adjustment setup.
Fig 2B: Top view of the camera angle adjustment setup
the apparent length increases as the out-of-plane angle increases
Fig 2C: The telephoto (circle markers) and wide-angle (square markers) apparent lengths for the upper corner horizontal bars on the right (upper) and left (lower) show that the apparent length increases as the out-of-plane angle increases.

Calibrate Your O2 Gas Sensor

Using your LabQuest 2 stylus or a paper clip, you can easily calibrate your O₂ Gas Sensor. #VernierTechTips

A video posted by Vernier Software & Technology (@verniersoftware) on

Use the FLIR ONE Thermal Camera Bumper Case

Use your thumb to remove the FLIR ONE Thermal Camera from its holder. #VernierTechTips #flirone @FLIR

A video posted by Vernier Software & Technology (@verniersoftware) on

Logger Pro Power User Features

Are you looking for ways to expand your use of Logger Pro? Here are tips to get you started with some of the advanced features of our powerful data-collection and analysis software:

  1. Add multiple pages within a single Logger Pro file to organize graphs, data tables, pictures, and other information. All pages share the same underlying data and data-collection settings. See the Page menu for options.
  2. Combine data from several files into one by choosing Import from ▶ Logger Pro File from the File menu. You can use this feature to easily compare data from multiple groups.
  3. Choose Strike Through Data Cells from the Edit menu to temporarily ignore some data points. This is a great way to remove selected data from graphs or curve fits without actually deleting the values. The values are shown with a line through them in the data table. The feature can be used to ignore preliminary motion detector data, for example.
  4. When the graph is selected, you can use the spacebar to start or stop data collection. No more hunting for the Collect button.
  5. Draw predictions before doing experiments. To do this, choose Draw Prediction from the Analyze menu.
  6. Add a second vertical axis to display data of incommensurate units on the same graph. For example, graph pH and the derivative of pH on a single graph. Choose Graph Options from the Options menu to enable and configure a second y-axis.
  7. Choose Model from the Analyze menu to plot functions on a graph; then, adjust the parameters in the function helper object by selecting the parameter and using the arrow keys or by selecting the value of the parameter and entering values by typing on the keyboard or using cursor keys. Use this feature to have students find their own best-fit line and then compare it to the least-squares fit.
  8. Use calculated columns to display inferred quantities, even during data collection. For example, graph kinetic energy using a calculated column of 1/2 mv2 from the Motion Detector velocity data. Use a user parameter for m while you’re at it, and then add a parameter control for m using the Insert menu.
  9. Show error bars on a graph; error bars can be a fixed fraction, fixed value, or independently entered values. Enable error bars by choosing Column Options from the Data menu.
  10. Create a semi-log or log-log graph by choosing Graph Options from the Options menu.

Animated Displays in Logger Pro

One of the great, hidden features of Logger Pro is the ability to add vector displays to motion you are studying. Two sample files that use this feature are included with Logger Pro. One of the files, “Basketball Shot vector analysis,” can be found in the “Sample Movies” folder. If you open the file and play the movie, the vectors appear on the movie as the ball moves.


Animated Displays in Logger Pro
Velocity vectors in Logger Pro

For a tutorial on how to set up animated displays in your Logger Pro files, choose Open from the File menu and navigate to the “Exploring Animated Displays” file in Sample Data > Physics > Animated Display Vectors.

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