Balancing a Can on Its Edge

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A well-known party trick is that for certain volumes it is possible to balance a partially full North American beverage can on its beveled edge. The slider controls the height of the top surface of the fluid and the point shows the center of mass of the fluid and can. The system will be stable if the center of mass is over its base of support. Thus if the point is between the vertical lines the can will balance on its edge.

Contributed by: Sijia Liang (Beloit College) and Bruce Atwood (Beloit College) (September 2011)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



The system is stable when it contains between about 31 and 223 ml of fluid (assuming a density of 1 ). Experiments give an interval between about 40 and 200 ml. The difference is likely caused by our approximations of the geometry of an actual beverage can.

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