Lava lamp centrifuge

Like many projects, this one started with a harmless question. “Will lava lamps work in a high-gravity environment such as Jupiter?”. Well, as it turns out, this harmless question was not so easily answered. The only real solution was to test and prove for sure. To do this, [Neil Fraser] built a centrifuge in his living room. At 10 feet across and roughly 50 kilograms, this is no small toy. The end with the lava lamp is set to pivot, so at a stand still, it is positioned vertically and at full speed it is positioned horizontally. The whole process is recorded on video for proof. So, does a lava lamp work in high gravity? Watch the video or read the article to find out.

[via Makezine]

72 thoughts on “Lava lamp centrifuge

  1. How did they manage to make the heat work in the same plane as gravity? For one of the principles of a lavalamp, as I understand them, is that there is a heater at the bottom causing some interesting flows as the liquids react to the temperature change.

    As far as I can tell their experimental setup, though interesting, does not take the heat effect into account and therefore this experiment does not answer the important question whether we can decorate our household on Jupiter with these lovely items.

    Nevertheless let’s not despair as this setup can be used to test whether hamsters can run a treadmill on Jupiter. The heat effect is less important in that experiment!

  2. This man is clearly an idiot.
    using an audio connector to power a lava lamp is not a solution to any problem, it’s simply irresponsible.

  3. Chris, you are wrong. Gravity is just a force, same as the force generated in this setup. The heat just causes density changes in the blob of wax. When it’s denser than the water, it will sink at a rate proportional to the force applied. When less dense, it’ll rise at a rate proportional to force.

    pff, He is using a 1/4″ connector. While this is an audio connector, it’s a fairly large one, and is often used in setups that need 360 rotational freedom. Sure, you’ve got a chance of blowing a fuse, but there’s really no better way to do this without spending a lot of money. As long as he’s watching it (and who would run a centrifuge without watching it?) it’s reasonably safe.

  4. Whatever happened to that experiment whereby we’d find out if ants can be trained to sort tiny screws in space?


  5. I like it, but surely the answer is fairly obvious from the physics of it? The oils only move because of their relative density change due to the heat. The heat is still present (though of course not convecting upwards, but still conducting and radiating to the liquid), gravity is still there only a little more forceful. (differential) Force = mass x gravity, all you’re doing is scaling up the g in the function?

  6. He might have a slight problem with the Coriolis effect. I think that’s why he gets that vortex at the bottom. Only one solution: build a bigger centrifuge!

  7. LOL. We all knew that lava lamps would work in higher gravity but this would let lava lamps work in space. I like the part when they hid in the next room and peeked through the door for safety. Any guess how fast the lamp or the counterweight was traveling at? Bet an interior door or the wall would stop ten kilos of mechano.

  8. I love the use of the erector set, it really takes me back. To bad I lost most of the parts as a kid. Anyway who cares if the experiment was valid thats some sweet engineering!

  9. Also of note – the wind generated going over the lamp. I know my lava lamp doesn’t function when you have a fan blowing on it – it’s a delicate balance of heat, density and buoyancy to get a lava lamp to work. All other things being equal, the wind will over-cool this beast.

  10. I love the rig. but:

    First: you wouldn’t be able to put it on the surface of Jupiter, it would immediately start to fall, the net effect would be equal to weightlessness. so no need for the centrifuge.

    Second: if you were on a spacecraft, you would have to be high enough in orbit to simulate free fall. again gravity would be negligible since any perceptible gravity would draw you towards the gravity well of the planet.

    of course the answer is yes, since the specific gravity of both liquids is based on its density, as the gravity fluctuates, both liquids are changed in equal proportion. what i would ask is: could he put a vacuum chamber on it to simulate the vacuum of space.

    wonderful build, my wife would never let me put something like that in our living room. can you imagine the mess it would make and the damage it could do? THAT’S hack worthy by itself.

  11. @pff
    You know what? For the couple hours this guy is playing with this, that 1/4″ audio connector will work just fine. It’s a “hack” not a permanent structure.

    1. @Andrew,
      From the article, the phone does not read correctly. it is closer to 3g.

      @lame and notahack,
      in our backend, we can see that it is the same person. stop trolling.

  12. OMG! I’ve been wondering this for the past 18 years! Now I know that I can bring it on my next trip to Jupiter!!

  13. Lavalamps work because of different density in the fluids, which change according to temperature. No matter what g-force there is, if there is one it will work, even with negativ g, the fluids would just change direction. Useless experiment is (well done and cool but still) useless

  14. lol @pod. you beat me to it.

    @jerry, i don’t think it’s a complete waste of time. now we know how to build a centrifuge with an erector set. XD

    i was wondering, though slightly off topic, wouldn’t the gravity of jupiter crush the lava lamp before you could even plug it in?

  15. Who really cares if a lava lamp will work on Jupiter? I love it because he BUILT A CENTRIFUGE in his living room!

  16. I agree with Hacksaw. CENTRIFUGE IN LIVING ROOM WITH ERECTOR SET. A fine idea of using an audio for power, at least for now, and he has quite a nice setup for the lamp, camera, and cellphone.

  17. Don’t think the gravity is only issue of lava lamps on Jupiter. The pressure of the atmosphere is far greater than anything on Earth. That glass would only survive a few miles into the atmosphere. Plus friction from the wind would heat up the glass, making the light useless. Cool experiment though.

  18. 50 kilograms (fix the article please) and 3 meter long centrifuge. Love it. I wouldn’t do it in my living room though :)

  19. to barry99705: true, but good luck getting a lava lamp to survive the trip intact. plus once you get that far deep into Jupiter, the mass above you would probably lessen the G’s you would feel, if the pressure didn’t kill you. but hey since we’re discussing the impossible, you are absolutely right. good job nit picking.

  20. What the…holy…@*#!

    A centrifuge…in your living room…with a flippin’ erector set?!

    That’s motherlovin’ AWESOME!

  21. Actually, getting the lamp to work on Jupiter is simple. You suspend it beneath a balloon. You will see Jupiter’s full gravity at its visible “surface,” no relative wind, and only whatever pressure the balloon is designed to float in. Of course, since the atmosphere is mostly hydrogen already you’ll need a big balloon inflated with really pure hydrogen to get lift…

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