Newton’s cradle, named after Sir Isaac Newton, is a device that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy via a series of swinging spheres. When one on the end is lifted and released, it strikes the stationary spheres; a force is transmitted through the stationary spheres and pushes the last one upward. The device is also known as Newton’s balls or “Executive Ball Clicker”

A typical Newton’s cradle consists of a series of identically sized metal balls suspended in a metal frame so that they are just touching each other at rest. Each ball is attached to the frame by two wires of equal length angled away from each other. This restricts the pendulums’ movements to the same plane.

If one ball is pulled away and is let to fall, it strikes the first ball in the series and comes to nearly a dead stop. The ball on the opposite side acquires most of the velocity and almost instantly swings in an arc almost as high as the release height of the Last ball. This shows that the final ball receives most of the energy and momentum that was in the first ball. The impact produces a shock wave that propagates through the intermediate balls. Any efficiently elastic material such as steel will do this as long as the kinetic energy is temporarily stored as potential energy in the compression of the material rather than being lost as heat.

Newtons cradle 5-ball system. One ball is pulled away and is let to fall; it strikes the first ball in the series and comes to nearly a dead stop. The momentum of the first ball disappears and reappears as the momentum of the last ball as it rises into the air. This shows that the momentum of the system remains constant.
With two balls dropped, exactly two balls on the opposite side swing out and back. With three balls dropped, three balls will swing back and forth, with the central ball appearing to swing without interruption.

Christiaan Huygens used pendulums to study collisions. His work, De Motu Corporum ex Percussione (On the Motion of Bodies by Collision) published posthumously in 1703, contains a version of Newton’s first law and discusses the collision of suspended bodies including two bodies of equal size with the motion of a moving body being transferred to one at rest.

The principle demonstrated by the device, the law of impacts between bodies, was first demonstrated by the French physicist Abbé Mariotte in the 17th century. Newton acknowledged Mariotte’s work, among that of others, in his Principia.

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