Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am under the understanding that a toy top will weigh less when it is spinning. The Russians made a spinning type transport back in the 70s to lessen its payload over the tundra. Is this an effective way to beat gravity?

share|cite|improve this question
Short answer: no. Long answer: noooooooooooooooo. – Mitchell Aug 10 '12 at 2:49
E=mc**2, ergo adding kinetic energy makes the top slightly heavier. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Aug 10 '12 at 3:21
Very, very, slightly. Unless you're exceptionally strong. :) – elifino Dec 11 '15 at 2:59
up vote 6 down vote accepted


A top can offer stability like in a gyroscope, but it does not in any way reduce the mass of an object.

Some applications of a gyroscope are useful for transport, however. The popular Segway scooters use them to measure how far/fast it is tilting forward or backward and drives the wheels to compensate.. Similarly, motorcycles take advantage of the gyroscopic motion of their wheels to stay upright. Over the tundra, I could conceive of a gyroscope being used to keep a sled tilted up so that it is heavier on the backside and thus doesn't get caught toe up in the snow, but it would not reduce the mass at all. On the contrary, the mass of the gyroscopic device is just more to haul around.

share|cite|improve this answer
The Segway uses mems gyroscopes to measure how far/fast it is tilting forward or backward and drives the wheels to compensate. It doesn't use a gyroscope force to stabilise it – Martin Beckett Aug 10 '12 at 14:02
Huh, I did not know that. Thanks. – AdamRedwine Aug 10 '12 at 15:57
It's unfortunate that accelerometers, north-seeking gyros and reaction-wheels all get called gyroscopes. – Martin Beckett Aug 10 '12 at 16:07

To a certain extent yes, if you take aerodynamics into account. Specially made top can deflect air to provide a lift force. Exaggerated example is a helicopter. A better example though is Frisbee.

But it's not because the mass reduced or something is done to gravity, it's just a force exerted by surrounding air.

By the way, George, provide a reference to that Russian transport so we could see what's the matter with it.

share|cite|improve this answer
You're talking about weight. – Bernhard Aug 10 '12 at 17:19
@Bernhard so was the questioner. – kleingordon Aug 10 '12 at 19:03
@YR, its been years since i read the article about the Russians, in a book like popular science or mechanics, and it must have been aprox 1972, i will try a search to find it. Thanks for your answer but has anyone actually weighed a spinning top using weigh scales? – George Jones Aug 11 '12 at 1:54
@kleingordon It was tagged mass, and the whole question does not clearly show what he meant. – Bernhard Aug 11 '12 at 7:32
George, I'm sure someone did it, but I never encountered these works. You can do it yourself. Buy a toy gyroscope and appropriate weights. If the phenomena is strong enough to be considered to put on a transoprt you'll be able to measure it even with such a cheap gadgets. By the way certain effect of spinning is used to increase weight, the effect is used in millstones ( Beforehand, no, it could not be reversed to decrease weight. – Yrogirg Aug 11 '12 at 10:47

Scientist Bruce DePalma did extensive research on just this matter. Google him. I seem to recall he determined that mass is polarizable, can be made to resist acceleration more in the axial direction than in any of the lateral directions. Mass being only definable in terms of resistance to acceleration, it sems to follow that this can be so when you think of having released some of the local spin... Freed it to turn the whole top.

Searl showed me an experiment wherein he had placed a second steel bearing pin in the top of a typical pear shaped toy top. He wound the string... Tossed it with regular pin down, wide end up. It spun fine. Then he performed the same experiment with wide part down. Immediately, the toy top toppled and inverted itself so it agin spun smoothly with the wide HEAVIER part up.

share|cite|improve this answer
Welcome to Physics.SE. This seems a good answer, but sources, references or quotes would me most welcome. Not everyone in it for reputation, but if that matters, more thoroughly researched questions and answers with links to reputable sources, diagrams and so forth, receive higher scores. – theUg Jan 22 '13 at 23:03
for those who might be intersted, the second paragraph seems to be about tippie top – Yrogirg Jan 23 '13 at 6:44
Oh my. Bruce DePalma, eh? Haven't heard from him for a while. He's many things, but not what I'd call a scientist, since he thinks he's God. "For the sake of argument we must assume that consciousness in Nature is the essence of the mind of God...This presupposes I am God; but I am God." This from "The Experiment of Existence." Woo on a pretty grand scale. – WhatRoughBeast Oct 2 '15 at 14:44
For what it's worth, this has all the hallmarks of, shall we say, one of "those" theories. But you know, your statement about "mass is polarizable" is kind of an odd way of stating it, but there's a way to interpret it where it's actually mainstream science. I'm talking about the relativistic effective mass tensor, i.e. the second-rank tensor M that would make F = Ma true for an object moving close to the speed of light. And indeed, it's anisotropic: It's greater in the direction of motion than transverse to it. It's almost never used, though, because it's needlessly complicated. – elifino Dec 11 '15 at 3:05
But, that said, just the phrase "mass is polarizable" definitely screams "not mainstream physics." It's a really strange use of terminology. – elifino Dec 11 '15 at 3:07

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.