Hacking Neil Downie – Day 2

Editor’s Note: Hacking Neil Downie is a week of experiments with the ideas and designs from Neil Downie’s brilliant and playful books on Saturday Science.  When the kids in the group discovered that Neil is a real person who lives and works in England (and sometimes in Pennsylvania) they wondered why they couldn’t ask him their questions directly.  In this blog, they will.

All week we will forward him their thoughts and questions.


Dear Neil Downie,

Thank you for answering us and the special challenge.  We were able to make rings hover by hand.  We used an “eggbeater” drill and a wooden star to replace the motor.

It was definitely harder than the motor.

Parker and Hillary

Dear Neil Downie,

Could you even guess how many experiments you have tried?


Dear Neil Downie,

Have you ever had an idea you just couldn’t make work…even though it should work? Many of my ideas are hard to make work.


Dear Neil Downie,

We made Vibrocrafts. We tried parts of scrub brushes, toothbrushes, plastic tabs, toothpicks, and even tongue depressors as “bristles”.

They all worked some. Can you think of bristles we missed?


Dear Neil Downie,

My Vibrocraft went in a straight line, then turned in a small circle, then straight again, then a circle.  Of course it wouldn’t do it when we were filming.  Why would it change its dance and then change back?


Dear Neil Downie,

My Hovering Rings stick drew with a pencil for you.

(Editor’s Note: The Vibrocraft served as the energy for the Hovering Rings.)


Dear Neil Downie,

Our Vibrocrafts painted a picture for you.

Monika and Apple


Filed under General

8 responses to “Hacking Neil Downie – Day 2

  1. Try using small rubber bouncing balls instead of paint brushes to make it bounce a little. Tooth brush side worked out great.

  2. Neil A. Downie

    Sorry, Evan, it’s a b it confusing when you can’t see people. Neil

  3. evan gerritz

    I was actually the person to ask how many experiments have you done.

    evan (age 9)

  4. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Parker, that’s neat ! Did the rings stop hovering when you drew with the Hovering Ring machine ? Or did they carry on going up and down ? Neil

  5. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Monika and Apple, the Vibrocraft Painting is really neat. Just think: maybe it is the first time anyone has done this anywhere in the universe. Neil

  6. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Joshua, you have tried a lot of bristles. You could try pieces of a broom or yard brush – one at each end of a vibrocraft. Let me know if it works – or if it doesn’t work, why you think that it didn’t. Neil

    Dear Charlie, I can’t think quite why the Vibrocraft went straight and then in a circle. Was it going on a flat smooth surface? Sometimes small differences, like varnished versus plain wood, cause a change like that. Neil

  7. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Jacob, I guess that I try out a new idea every week, so I guess that’s got to be a thousand ideas. But each idea might need a hundred experiments. So that makes a 100,000, which is like the number of tiny full stop dots you could draw on a page if you drew them really close together. Neil

  8. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Parker and Hillary, you did well to get the Hovering Rings to go by hand. I was interviewed on the radio, and the presenter had a go at winding the crank to make the rings hover, but he always went too fast or too slow. Before he could get it to work it was time for the traffic news. Neil D

    Dear Ben, I have had lots and lots of ideas I couldn’t make work. A lot of times I found someone to help me make it better, like the PullmetoPushme. A retired guy at the Leonardo Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown made this work really well. But sometimes you have to stop and write or draw the idea that didn’t work so that you go back to it another day. Neil