Magic Rollback Can

Potential and kinetic energy are both at work in this magical demonstration

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Magic Rollback Can

The Magic Rollback Can appears to be a normal can that was once full of coffee, but after you roll it along the ground a little ways and watch it come back, you’ll be wondering just how it works.


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Here's What You'll Need

  • Metal can (empty coffee, oats, or peanuts cans work well)
  • Screwdriver or other hard pointed object
  • 9-volt battery or object with similar weight
  • Rubber band
  • 2 paperclips
  • Tape

Let's Try It

  1. Place the lid of the can on the bottom.

  2. Using the screwdriver, make a hole in the middle of the bottom of your metal can (through the lid and can itself). Be extra careful when using sharp objects. Also, be careful around the sharp metal edges that you may create when making the hole.

    Separate the punctured lid from the can.

  3. Magic Rollback Can - Step 3

    Tape the 9-volt battery to the middle of the rubber band. Make sure both sides of the rubber band are taped to the bottom of the battery.

  4. Magic Rollback Can - Step 4

    Push one end of your rubber band loop through the hole in the bottom of the can. Secure it there by attaching one of the paperclips. Once you have it secured, tape the paperclip down.

  5. Magic Rollback Can - Step 5

    Stretch the rubber band across the length of the can and push the other end of the rubber band loop through the hole in the lid – securing the rubber band with a paperclip once again.

    NOTE: The battery should NOT rub against the side of the can. If it does, try a shorter rubber band.

  6. Magic Rollback Can - Step 6

    Set the can on its side on a hard surface or short carpet floor and give it a roll. Once the can comes to a stop, try to contain your excitement as it begins to roll back to you!

How Does It Work

The Magic Rollback Can is a great example of transfer of energy. When you roll the can, it has kinetic energy. As it slows down, the energy is transferred into potential energy within the twisted rubber band inside the can. The twisted rubber band’s potential energy is then transferred back to the can in kinetic energy as it untwists.

The secret to all this energy transfer comes from the weight that you’ve taped to the rubber band inside the can. While the weight is being pulled down by gravity, it is also being subjected to a twisting force from the rubber band.  As long as the force being exerted by gravity on the weight is greater than the twisting rubber band’s force on the weight (meaning the weight never goes over the rubber band), the rubber band will continue to twist.

Once all of the kinetic energy from the rolling can has been exhausted by converting to heat (friction) or potential energy (twisted rubber band), the can stops rolling and the weighted rubber band is able to unwind. Because of the weight in the middle of the rubber band, only the ends of the loop are able to unwind and, therefore, the can begins to roll backwards.

Take It Further

If you are looking to take the Magic Rollback Can to the next level, try painting it a solid color. If you do this, observers won’t be able to see the apparatus on the ends of the can. This makes the Magic Rollback Can a perfect “Black Box” tool for teachers. Show students what the Magic Rollback Can does, and have them observe and hypothesize how the can might work.

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