Make a science spinner

A thaumatrope (pronounced thor-ma-trope!) is a disc that spins so fast your eyes and brain will see pictures that aren’t really there.


Science is all about seeing the whole picture and you’ll only be able to see this picture when you spin your thaumatrope.

You’ll make a picture that is split into two parts, one on each side of a circle, and if you spin that circle fast enough the two parts come together so you can see the whole picture.

Safety tip: Get an adult if you need help with the scissors and be extra careful poking holes in the card. 

What you'll need

  • Card or stiff paper 
  • String 
  • Pens and pencils 
  • Scissors 
  • A printed out template (Optional)

What to do

  • Step 1

    Carefully cut a circle out of your card, it should be between 5cm and 10cm. 

    Tip: Drawing around a baked bean tin will give you a good sized circle!

  • Step 2

    Carefully poke two pairs of holes on opposite edges of the circle, you need four holes altogether, like this.

    A circle with two pairs of dots - one on the left edge and one on the right edge.
  • Step 3

    Now you need to design your picture. One side should have a space for something to go in, and the other side should have the thing you want to appear in that space. The examples below may help inspire you! 

    Important: One picture will need to be upside down so it appears the right way up when the thaumatrope spins.

    A diagram showing how to make the thaumatrope craft.
  • Step 4

    Cut two lengths of string about 50cm each.

  • Step 5

    Tie a knot in the very middle of each of your strings, don’t tie them together though!

  • Step 6

    Following the diagram, thread one piece of string through hole 1 until you get to your knot. Then thread the other end of the string through hole 2.

    Diagram showing a circle with numbers going around it anti-clockwise.
  • Step 7

    Repeat Step 6 with the other piece of string and holes 3 and 4. Don’t worry about what sides the knots are on, they don’t even have to be on the same side. 

  • Step 8

    Holding a pair of strings in each hand whirl the disc around, so it all moves a bit like a skipping rope, the strings should get twisted up. When they’re really twisted pull the strings tight and, as they untangle, the disc will spin, revealing your picture.

    Tip: If your picture is upside down, swap the strings over in your hands and try again!

    Diagram showing a circle with twisted string on each side.
  • The science

    The science

    You might not have thought much about it, but seeing something move is surprisingly complicated.

    First you see something in one place, then see it in another place, then compare those things. Your eyes and your brain work together to do this for you without you having to think too much about it.

    Sometimes, though, when something is moving really fast, your brain can’t quite keep up and starts to mix up the things you are seeing. This disc is spinning so fast that the two sides blur into one, and to your eyes and brain, there seems to be a single picture. 

    This is a lot like the way moving pictures on screens work. They are actually lots of still images, called frames, that are changing so quickly your brain sees them as a single image.

    We’re using two totally different pictures to make one new one, but when you watch a movie the pictures only have very small changes, so the things on screen appear to be moving from one position to another. We’re also only using two pictures, but a movie could easily have 8 million!

    Real science at the Crick

    Real science at the Crick

    Understanding how the brain works to process information, like what we can see, is called neuroscience.

    Neurons are cells that make up circuits around our body, and there are loads of them in our brains. These circuits send, receive, and pass on information and they are how we understand the world around us and control our bodies. Researchers at the Crick look at how these circuits work and what can go wrong with them.

    By understanding neurons and how they work together we can find ways to prevent and treat diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Researchers at the Crick are working on understanding neurons so that we can hopefully one day find new treatments.

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