Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Restoring a University Landmark

One of Clemson's lesser-known but unique landmarks is a Foucault Pendulum, a device that tracks the Earth's rotation. In the past ten years, though, the pendulum has stopped swinging. A team of Creative Inquiry students has taken on the task of getting it working again. Clemson's Foucault pendulum is the only one of its kind in South Carolina. It hangs three stories high in a shaft adjoining Kinard Laboratory. In the 1960s, Dr. Albert Reed, a Clemson physics professor, designed a revolutionary mechanism to make the pendulum self-sustaining, but age caught up to the device and it came to a halt.

In the fall of 2012, Jared Williams, Edward Bell and other students made a scale model of the pendulum and made it functional. They decided to apply what they had learned in making the scale model to the full-sized pendulum."It started as a class project where Eddie and I wanted to build a scale model and get the electronics working," said Williams. "The pendulum, if you just let it swing, will die out eventually. So we put magnets underneath it and we pulled it at the right time. Back in the day they used analog electronics, so our goal is to take it, digitize it, use a microprocessor to monitor the whole thing."

The team developed a plan to modernize the electronics used in the pendulum's design, including monitoring aspects of its swing, such as velocity and period. That data will be used to maintain the pendulum and will be sent to a website for analysis and use in physics classes. The team received $68,000 of funding from Clemson Undergraduate Student Government's Capital Improvements budget on Feb. 4 to refurbish, upgrade and maintain the pendulum. The group plans to have it running by May 2013, and to finish work on it by fall 2013, at which point the physics department will take over maintenance.

"The physics department is going to roll it into coursework," said Dr. Chad Sosolik, the project's faculty adviser. "It's sitting right outside, and you can look at the data. At that point we'll know what a Foucault Pendulum does, because we'll have seen it in action."

By: Jeff Kinnison (Decipher Issue 2, Fall 2013)