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Question
Dr. Nelson,

Why does a toy gyroscope not spin like a spinning top when spun from the top?  A spinning top spins when spun from the top.  Is the center of mass too heavy along the horizontal axis for the gyroscope?  

Also, is a heavy spinning top able to spin longer?

Thanks,
Elizabeth

Answer
A spinning top is a type of gyroscope, so I'm really not sure what kind of specific gyroscope you mean.  A heavy top may or may not spin longer, it depends on whether or not its mass is more important than any increase in friction that the mass might have.  While a heavier top will have more angular momentum, the higher force on the surface that it sits on may give it more rotational friction to slow it down.

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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson

Expertise

I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.

Experience

I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Education/Credentials
Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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