Tricky Thaumatropes

Make an optical toy that will fool your eyes and boggle your mind! When you spin a thaumatrope, the pictures on either side seem to combine into one image. Check out this early form of animation!

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Step-by-step tutorial

  • Step 1

    Gather your materials.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 1

  • Step 2

    Cut two circles out of a piece of cardstock.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 2

  • Step 3

    Draw a fishbowl in the center of one.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 3

  • Step 4

    Draw a fish in the center of the other one.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 4

  • Step 5

    Glue the back sides of the drawings together so that the fishbowl is upright and the fish is upside down.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 5

  • Step 6

    Thread a piece of string through a needle and make a hole on one side of the circle. Then, pull the string through and tie it.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 6

  • Step 7

    Repeat step 6 on the other side of the circle.

    Photo reference of how to complete step 7

  • Step 8

    Hold one string in each hand. Then, quickly twirl the string back and forth between your fingers. What do you observe? Try making other images too - like a flying rocket ship!

    Photo reference of how to complete step 8

  • Learn moreMagnifying graphic

    When you slowly twirl the thaumatrope, you see the fish, and then the bowl. But if you twirl it fast enough, the images blend together and the fish looks like it’s back in its home!

    This happens because of an effect called persistence of vision. When something changes or moves really fast, it looks like part of it stays, or persists. Persistence of vision is why your fingers blur together if you wave them in front of your face, and why embers look like they streak away from a crackling fire.

    Vision persists because your brain is fast, but not super-fast. Your brain takes time to process the messages that your eyes send to it when they see something. So if the thing you’re looking at changes faster than your brain can process it, your brain blurs and blends it all together. That’s how the fish gets in the bowl!

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