About Aiona

As the ExNET educator, I provide educational support and inspiration to Exploratorium partners the world over.

Marble Survey Results

Last week I created an online marble survey to investigate people’s marble habits. 60 people took the survey. Here’s a brief summary of what I found out about them.

82% own at least one marble.

The average number of marbles owned is 130.

58% have lost their marbles.

What people do with marbles (in descending order of popularity): Keep them around, put them in flower vases, give them to children, make marble runs, give them to the cat, find them randomly lying around, assign personalities to them, find them in the back yard, put them in fish tanks, play marble games, do science experiments, clink them together, look to them with suspicion and regret, robots.

Other Wonderful things people said about marbles:

  • Each is a wonderful little world that you can peer into, a glassy microcosm. Growing up, the only pet our fussy dad would let us keep was a goldfish, and we put marbles in the bottom of the tank. The fish poo was trapped safely under the marble bed, thwarting attempts by said fish to eat said poo. The marbles were almost as interesting as the goldfish.
  • I played marbles a lot as a kid both “shooting” and rolling big pots where it was like a Vegas crap table with players having put in “all the marbles” and the tension thick. I kept some of the special “high” value agots worth 1 million.
  • Early memory of making butter with marbles and heavy cream in a baby food jar at summer camp. Nostalgia.
  • I grew up on Washington’s Puget Sound, and there was a particular beach — Glass Beach — that had been used as a dump site in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A couple hundred yards of beach were dotted with old pottery, pieces of junk metal, and lots of bits of glass (hence the name). You had to hike a couple of miles to get to it, which increased its mystique. The most treasured find was a marble; everyone looked for them, and usually each expedition would find no more than one. I found one or two in my time, in many years of going there. It was always very exciting.
  • My grandparents had a wooden marble roller, which my siblings and I played with for hours. The sound pattern of the rolling sound, CLICK, rolling, CLICK, rollling…. I also own one special blue marble, given to me by an outdoor educator named Karen about 20 years ago. It represents the planet earth, and I promised to care for it.
  • my great uncle, Dumas Walker, was the “King of Marbles”. He made his own marbles.He owned a beer shack in the hills of TN on the edge of a dry county. The Kentucky Headhunters wrote a song about him. He always gave me a stick of beef jerky when we visited that part of the country. Makes me smile.
  • There is an old story that my sister likes to tell about when I was very young. She says that she had a very beautiful and expansive marble collection. She claims that I played with them, scattering them all over the house, losing them permanently. I don’t remember a thing about it, but I think that it might be best to not have all your marbles, so I think she should probably really be thanking me.

Respondents ranged in age from 21 to 63 and were located across the country, in California, Texas, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Indiana and Colorado. They were mostly museum workers, with a handful of exceptions.


Marble Runs

No marble exploration would be complete without marble runs! Here are links to the best runs out there. Click for lots of pretty photos and videos. Also, I know several of you have your own marble runs. I would love to see photos or hear about them.

Pythagoras Switch: This is a collection of Japanese shorts with really amazing, professional level marble runs. These clips start off a children’s television there I believe.

Tinkering Studio Marble Machines: Our tinkering studio has perfected to art of museum marble runs, and is constantly innovation new ideas for it. These are the main instructions, but look at their blog for other ideas.

Austin Children’s Museum Fridge Marbles: This is a much simpler version of marble runs which uses simple materials you probably already have lying around. Click here if you have a hankering to make a marble run right now.

Marble Optics

One of the many many things I love about marbles is the way they interact with light. When taking the marble photos for the blog banner it was almost all I could think about. If you refresh the page you can see all three of them, taken with Exploratorium exhibits as light sources. Clearish marbles also act like fish eye lenses, taking a large section of the world around them and flipping it upside down in a strange distorted way. Here’s a particularly striking example of a very large and perfectly clear sphere. The girl holding it is an Explainer I met at a rural museum in Egypt. Even ordinary clear marbles behave like this, but I just love this photo.

Marble Cake

One of my friends just had his annual experimental dinner party. The invitation read:

Come to this potluck bearing whatever wild culinary dreams you’ve dreamed but not dared to cook for company yet.
Conceptual art on a plate!
Savory sweets and unsavory savories!
Unheard-of combinations!”

Naturally I decided to make a marble cake. There are marbles cooked into the actual cake itself as well, and, no, no one cracked a tooth. It was actually a pretty delicious cake.

Marbles at Turntable

I took some marbles to one of my favorite exhibits. In the video you can see two of the interesting behaviors I found. The marbles orbit each other if you start them together, and if you place one right in the center it traces a flower petal pattern as it starts moving. I also discovered a very consistent child snatching effect. You let the marble go and a child will snatch it, jump up and down in glee, and then try their own experiments. Warning: if you try this it may take awhile to get your marbles back.

Video shot with a cheap point and shoot in video mode. Edited with iMovie.

Marble Survey

I have created a survey to gather information regarding marbles. Please take a moment to complete it. All data is completely anonymous and the whole thing should take only two or three minutes. Results will be posted next week.

Survey Link