Significance of harmonographs


Why are harmonographs important?

The harmonograph is significant for a number of reasons. These reasons can be from a scientific, technological, cultural and artistic perspective.

Scientific significance 

A harmonograph can be used to demonstrate a simple scientific phenomena. In this case it could be the decay of energy.

The harmonograph demonstrates how:

  • potential energy, the mass of the platform with gravity;
  • changes into kinetic energy in a regular or harmonic way eventually stopping.

Harmonographs have a technological relevance

Similar movements of a harmonograph could be used by engineers when comparing/testing designs for bridges, buildings or structures that sway. Both suspension bridges and harmonographs can swing in similar ways.  Though it would be likely that an engineer would model such movement using a computer program.


A suspension bridge can sway or twist  in a similar way to a harmonograph. image: wikipedia

For example a model of a bridge could be forced to swing to simulate the movement due to gusts of wind. Then, by looking at the resulting patterns of movements could suggest if the bridge can cope safely with particular intensities of wind gusts depending on the the distribution of weight on the bridge.

Cultural or artistic aspects of the harmonograph

The patterns of a harmonograph can be used for decorative or artistic purposes. The fine and detailed designs have been used on currency/money notes around the world.


A classic example is of the Australian Twenty Dollar banknote which has 5 harmonograms. Due to the very fine detail it was difficult to copy or forge without it being obvious. image: Reserve Bank of Australia.