It’s pretty much a first world rite of passage for young children to make concoctions with beads. However, what most children (and adults, for that matter) don’t realize is just how much beautiful physics there is behind something as simple as bead chains.

In a video, Earth Unplugged shows (and explains below) what happens when 8,000 beads, stretched into a 164-foot (50-meter) chain, meet a beaker.

WATCH: “Amazing bead chain experiment in slow motion”

These beads seem to levitate, defy gravity and jump out of the beaker. But how and why do they act like this? We met up with Steve Mould, the science guy from Britain’s Brightest, to explore the science behind the “self siphoning beads”—also known as “Newton’s Beads”.

To get a closer look at the phenomenon, we filmed them in slow motion to try to work out what exactly was happening, and how the behaviour changes with height.

Look at it as a sort of tug-of-war. You can see the outer chain is going to be travelling really quickly as it falls, which means the inner chain is going to be travelling really quickly, as well. And if you’ve got something traveling really quickly, it’s got momentum… So you’ve got the inner chain traveling up, but it wants to change so it’s traveling down, but it can’t do that in an instant, because that would require infinite force.

Instead what it does is it changes direction slowly over the course of a loop, so that’s why it almost has to be a loop, because it needs that time and it needs that space to change directions.

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