“X” Marks the Spot: Finding the Center of Mass

From Scientific American:

Introduction
With a little time, you can probably find the center of simple shapes such as circles and squares pretty easily. But how do you find the “middle” of an irregular shape such as a drawing of a dog or a cat? This project will show you how to do it using nothing but string and paper clips!

Background
How do you define the exact center of an object? One way to do this is to find the object’s center of mass. The center of mass is the point about which an object will balance if you try to rest it on your fingertip. Or if you hang an object, for example a picture frame from a nail, the center of mass will hang directly below the nail.

For symmetrical objects, finding the center of mass is relatively easy. For example, for a rectangular picture frame, you know the center of mass is in the middle of the rectangle and you can find that with a ruler. When you hang the picture frame, you will make sure it is centered on the nail—otherwise it will tip to one side and will be off-center. The same applies to other symmetrical objects such as a spherical basketball; you know the center of mass is in the middle of the sphere.

What about irregularly shaped objects such as a dog or cat or person? Now finding the center of mass is not so easy! This activity will show you how to find the center of mass for any two-dimensional shape you cut out of paper using a trick that has to do with the hanging picture frame mentioned above. If you hang a shape from a single point, you know the center of mass will always rest directly below that point. So, if you hang a …

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