ANNOTATED LIST OF ACTIVITIES

 

 

 

Air Pressure and Dent Pullers

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Air_Pressure_and_Dent_Pullers.pdf

In a classic physics demonstration in Germany in the 1650's, two metal hemispheres were placed together, forming a sphere, and the air was then evacuated from the sphere. The hemispheres were held together only by the force resulting from the air pressure exerted on their outside surface. This force was so large that two teams of horses could not pull them apart. Having two students attempt to pull apart a pair of inexpensive suction cup dent pullers available from an auto supply store will give a similar demonstration of the amazing effect of air pressure.

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Ambiguous Cube

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Ambiguous_Cube.pdf

Some objects or figures can  be seen or interpreted in more than one way. They provide visual input that your brain can interpret in more than one way, and are quite logically described as ambiguous.  In this activityyou will construct a three-dimensional cube  that can be startlingly ambiguous. Strange things happen when your brain  gets confused.

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Anamorphic Art Worksheets and Images

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Anamorphic_Art_Worksheets_and_Images.pdf

Worksheets for the transfer of an image in rectangular coordinates to polar coordinates. When viewed in a cylindrical mirror the image in polar coordinates is seen in rectangular coordinates again.

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Avalanche
http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Avalanche.pdf

A mixture of salt and sand is placed in a CD case. When the case is tilted or inverted, the mixture dramatically sorts into a layered pattern. The sorting process involves the angle of repose and the Brazil Nut Effect. This type of sorting can be found in geology, and it is extremely important in industrial processes where mixtures of powders are involved.

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Ballistic Pendulum

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Ballistic_Pendulum.pdf

A dart from a plastic toy dart gun is fired into the open end of a cut-off plastic water bottle which has been stuffed with a plastic bag and suspended as a pendulum. Knowing the mass of the dart, the mass of the water bottle-bag combination, and the vertical rise of the water-bottle bag combination with the dart in it, simple energy and momentum considerations are used to find the muzzle velocity of the dart.

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Balloon Battle

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Balloon_Battle.pdf

Two identical balloons are blown up so that one is significantly larger than the other. The balloons are then connected with a PVC fitting with a valve that is closed, preventing air movement between the two balloons. The question is then posed as to what will happen when the valve is opened so that air can move from one to the other.

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Cake by Conduction

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Cake_by_Conduction.pdf

Cook a cake by passing electric current directly though the cake batter!

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Catapult
http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Catapult.pdf

A small catapult, made from simple materials, e.g., wooden tongue depressors/craft sticks, a plastic spoon, a rubber band, a clothespin, etc.

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Chemical Spice Cake Lab

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Chemical_Spice_Cake_Lab.pdf

Spice cake mini-cupcakes are baked using one "regular" cupcake as a control and five "chemical" cupcakes substituting carious combinations of Vaseline, soap and ginger ale for, respectively, margarine, egg and baking powder.

 

CD Air Puck

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/CD_Air_Puck.pdf

A CD disk is transformed into a “frictionless” (very low friction) air puck that will glide for tens of seconds on a smooth surface.

CD Spinner

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/CD_Spinner.pdf

A marble, a soda bottle cap and a hot glue gun transform a CD disk into a spinning top. When printed patterns are placed on the spinning disk, fascinating effects are observed.

Cylindrical Wing

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Cylindrical_Wing.pdf

A sheet of paper is folded into a cylindrical shape that flies like a paper airplane.

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Domino Model of a Nerve Impulse

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Domino_Model_of_a_Nerve_Impulse.pdf

This activity uses dominos to model a nerve cell's transmission of a signal. The activity is from the book Human Body Explorations, by Karen Kaumuck and the Exploratorium Teacher Institute (Kendall/Hunt, 2000, pp. 75-80). The title of the activity in the book is The Domino Effect.

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Downhill Race

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Downhill_Race.pdf

Objects are rolled down a pair of parallel tracks to explore the role of both mass and the distribution of the mass in their their ability to win a "race" to the bottom. Both the objects and the track structure are made from PVC. Since the objects can be made to move very slowly down the incline, timing data may be taken with just a stopwatch. Analyzing the data gives insight into properties of accelerated motion.

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Duckpower

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Duckpower.pdf

A Dipping Bird toy is made into a "duckpower motor" which will slowly lift a paper clip. A few simple measurements and calculations allow you to determine the work and power involved. Conventionally the power would be expressed in watts, but with a simple conversion can be expressed in horsepower. The value in horsepower can then be arbitrarily called 1 duckpower. With this conversion factor established, you can now readily determine how many ducks it takes to make a horse!

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Edible Dirt

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Edible_Dirt.pdf

A simple recipe for edible dirt using Oreo cookies and Mother's Iced Oatmeal cookies.

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Eddy Currents and Magnetic Braking

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Eddy_Currents_and_Magnetic_Braking.pdf

Moving magnets generate electric currents (called eddy currents) which in turn generate new magnetic fields in opposition to the original  fields. These opposing fields can be used as a brake

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Electromechanical Efficiency

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Electromechanical_Efficiency.pdf

Electrical input is compared with mechanical output to determine the % Efficiency for a toy Dolphin or Penguin track, and for one or more small electric motors.

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Electroplating

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Electroplating.pdf

Electroplating is a process in which electric current is used to plate a metal onto an object ,e.g., chrome-plated trim or wheels on a car, chrome-plated bathroom fixtures, gold-plated or silver-plated jewelry. This activity explores two examples of electroplating. In Part 1, zinc from a galvanized nail (an iron nail which has been coated with zinc by dipping it in molten zinc) will be plated onto a copper penny, making it look "silver." In Part 2, copper from a penny will be plated onto a nickel.

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Escapement

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Escapement.pdf

Build a simple mechanism that regulates the "escape" of energy released by a falling weight by portioning it into discrete amounts. Escapements are found in mechanical clocks, such as those driven by a pendulum or a spring.

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Fan Cart

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Fan_Cart.pdf

If a sailboat is stranded because there is no wind, is it possible to set up a fan on deck and blow wind into the sail to make the boat move? This is a classic physics problem which you can explore here by using simple materials to build a low-friction cart with a removable motor and a removable sail. This is an elegant way to demonstrate Newton's Laws in action.

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Five-Layer Density Column

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Five-Layer_Density_Column.pdf

Five commonly available liquids and some food coloring are used  to create strikingly colorful layered density column.

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Free-Fall Bottles & Tubes

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Free-Fall_Bottles_&_Tubes.pdf

Water-filled plastic bottles with holes in them spurt water under normal conditions, but don't leak while in free-fall. A ping-pong ball in a water-filled plastic tube floats upward under normal conditions, but remains motionless when the tube is dropped or thrown.

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Hoop Nightmares

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Hoop_Nightmares.pdf

Try to make a basketball shot while wearing prism goggles. You'll have to retrain your brain.

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Hydraulic Arm

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Hydraulic_Arm.pdf

Pushing the plunger on a water-filled syringe lifts a wooden arm.

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Hyperbolic Slot

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Hyperbolic_Slot.pdf

A straight stick passes through a curved slot.

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Industrial Standards and Testing

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Industrial_Standards_and_Testing.pdf

An introduction to the little-known but very widespread and important role of industrial standards, specifications and testing in industrial/technological societies like ours that are intimately related to science and engineering. Students develop, describe, carry out and discuss tests for the bending strength of pasta and/or the tear strength of toilet paper.

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Klothoid Loop

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Klothoid_Loop.pdf

A circular loop has a constant  radius. A Klothoid  loop has a variable radius which is smallest at the top. A Klothoid loop having the same height as a circular loop will look narrower, and have a smaller  radius at the top than the circular loop. This is important in a roller coaster loop since it allows a coaster to have a lower speed without falling off the loop.

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Laser Lissajous

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Laser_Lissajous.pdf

Use a laser pointer and two small rotating mirrors to create a variety of fascinating patterns, which can be easily and dramatically projected on a wall or screen. These patterns are related to the path followed by a rider on a dual-axis (scrambler) ride at an amusement park, and to Lissajous figures. A detailed explanation is provided for one example of pattern formation.

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Leverarm

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Leverarm.pdf

Paul Doherty's write-up of an arm model.

 

Light Box

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Light_Box.pdf

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Magnetic Free Fall

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Magnetic_Free_Fall.pdf

A very simple demonstration in which gravitational and magnetic forces act on two falling objects to produce an unexpected result that elegantly illustrates Newton's Second Law.

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Marshmallow Puff Tube

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Marshmallow_Puff_Tube.pdf

A regular size marshmallow is blown  through a tube made from a manila file folder. The result is spectacular, and the process provides a great illustration of Newton's 2nd Law, F=ma.

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Microbalance

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Microbalance.pdf

Using simple, inexpensive materials such as a plastic drinking straw, this balance is sensitive enough to weigh items of only a few milligrams. While no claim is made that the balance is accurate enough to be legal for trade (!), it will nevertheless allow you to find approximate masses of things that are too small to even attempt to weigh at all with commonly available balances.

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Micrometer Caliper

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Micrometer_Caliper.pdf

This simple, inexpensive home-made micrometer caliper uses a machine screw with a known number of threads per inch to allow you to measure very small things like the thickness of a sheet of paper or the diameter of a human hair -- things that would not normally be directly measurable with rulers or other commonly available measuring tools. Its capability is somewhat amazing considering its cost and ease of construction.

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Modulated LED Flashlight

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Modulated_LED_Flashlight.pdf

A still more recently updated version of the Modulated LED Update, adding the use of a capacitor to provide protection to the iPod used. See other versions for additional background on the acitvity itself.

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Modulated Coil Using an iPhone or iPod

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Modulated_Coil_Using_an_iPhone_or_iPod.pdf

A still more recently updated version of the Modulated Coil Update. See other versions for additional background on the activity itself.

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Modulated Coil and Modulated LED Update

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Modulated_Coil_and_Modulated_LED_Update.pdf

The original versions of Modulated Coil and Modulated LED can be found in Square Wheels, co-authored by Don Rathjen and Paul Doherty, published by the Exploratorium in 2002, pp. 49 and 51. They can also be found online at www.exploratorium.edu/square_wheels/modulated_coil.pdf , and www.exploratorium.edu/square_wheels/modulated_led.pdf

In recent years, the question has arisen of whether an iPod would work in place of the transistor radio used in the original versions. This update shows an iPod replacing the transistor radio used in the original versions of both activities, and an LED flashlight replacing the LED, resistor and battery used in the original Modulated LED activity.

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Modulated Coil

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Modulated_Coil.pdf

Hear a Magnet! Using a simple electromagnet made from a coil of wire wound around a steel bolt, you can wirelessly transmit the sound from a radio to the speaker of a tape player.

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Modulated LED

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Modulated_LED.pdf

Listen to a beam of light! You can build a simple device in which the signal from a radio is transmitted on a beam of light to a solar cell and then played on a speaker.

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Newton's Laws Demonstrations

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Newton's_Laws_Demonstrations.pdf

A collection of demonstrations illustrating Newton's Laws of Motion.

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Over the Hill

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Over_the_Hill.pdf

A large marble is rolled along a track made from a commonly available and inexpensive metal shelf bracket.  The track  is gently bent so that there is a flat  portion, then a small hill, and finally a steep uphill portion. The object is to roll the ball so that it goes over the first hill, but does not come back over it -- it should remain in the dip between the two hills. The process involves nice illustrations of the interplay of kinetic energy, potential energy and friction.This is a table-top version of an old carnival game which uses a bowling ball on a steel track.

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Palm Pipes Plus Tunes

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Palm_Pipes_Plus_Tunes.pdf

If you bang the open end of a piece of PVC pipe agaisntg the palm of your hand, you'll make a musical sound. The frequency, or pitch, of the sound depends on the length of the pipe. Based on this simple but significant fact, you can make instruments for your own pipe band. You'll find it surprisingly easy to play some simple songs.

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Paper Tape Motion Timer

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Paper_Tape_Motion_Timer.pdf

A recording timer made from simple materials (e.g., small dc motor, sharpie pen, craft sticks, adding machine paper tape, etc.) produces a record of motion for things like toy cars, falling objects, etc. The resulting record, in the form of marks on the paper tape, can be used to tell the story of the motion, create graphical representations of the motion, and obtain information about displacement, velocity and acceleration.

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Pendulum Snake

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Pendulum_Snake.pdf

Several large steel hex-nuts are suspended on strings of successively increasing length to form a series of pendulums with successively increasing periods. When all pendulums are released simultaneously with the same amplitude, they gradually form an undulating snake-like pattern, and  then undergo further changes which are fascinating from both a visual and mathematical perspective.

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Penguins and Other Toys

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Penguins_and_Other_Toys.pdf

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Piezo Remote

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Piezo_Remote.pdf

A piezoelectric igniter, like those used as barbecue lighters, is used here to remotely start current flowing in a simple circuit containing a small electric fan. The explanation for how this happens is not obvious.

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Plot the Dot: A Graphical Approach to Density

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Plot_the_Dot_(Graphical_Density).pdf

Several individuals or groups determine mass and volume for each of four samples: glass marbles, steel washers or nuts, pieces of pine wood, and pieces of PVC pipe. All samples of any particular material are different. All data points are plotted on a large class graph of mass vs. volume. It can then be seen that data points for a particular material form a straight line, the slope of which gives the density of the material.

Pop-Ups

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Pop-Ups.pdf

Pop-Ups are little spring toys. When the toy is pressed against its base to compress the spring, a suction cup holds it to the base until it releases, whereupon the toy jumps in the air. The behavior of the toy provides a nice opportunity for identifying energy transformations. 

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Potato Chip Physics

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Potato_Chip_Physics.pdf

A tongue-in-cheek look at how physics can be involved in the shape of a potato chip. If it "sounds" too good to be true, it might be!

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Pullback Toy Motor Dissection

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Pullback_Toy_Motor_Dissection.pdf

In some pullback toys the winding is accomplished by moving the toy back and forth until a clicking sound is heard. This activity uses reverse engineering (i.e., dissection, or taking the motor apart) to determine what makes the clicking noise and what its function is.

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Pulleys

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Pulleys.pdf

Inexpensive pulley assemblies are made from pulley wheels used for sliding screen door replacement, or from clothesline spreaders. These are used to investigate pulley behavior and become familiar with the language and concepts of simple machines as applied to pulleys (e.g., effort, resistance, mechanical advantage, work, efficiency, etc.).

Reverse Masks

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Reverse_Masks.pdf

One mask protrudes from a black surface like an ordinary face, and a second identical mask is indented into the surface. When you close one eye and view the two masks, they both look like they are protruding, and when you move sideways, the indented mask seems to turn to follow your movement!

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Rubber Band newton Scale

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Rubber_Band_newton_Scale.pdf

Make a simple spring-like scale made using a rubber band instead of a spring, and calibrate the scale in newtons (N). Gain understanding of and familiarity with the newton as a unit of force, and use the scale to weigh common objects.

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Sensitive Filament

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Sensitive_Filament.pdf

The exposed filament from a 100-watt light bulb is wired in series with a flashlight bulb and a 9-volt battery. When you blow on the exposed filament, the flashlight bulb gets brighter.

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Shadow Panel

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Shadow_Panel.pdf

Normally, the life of your shadow is at your mercy. If you move, your shadow moves. In this snack, you use a luminous screen to create a shadow that hangs around for awhile.

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Shake Table

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Shake_Table.pdf

An eccentric mass mounted on the shaft of a small dc motor vibrates a platform resting on marbles as bearings, simulating the shaking of an earthquake. Structures can be simulated with wooden blocks, pasta, or a variety of other simple materials. Adjusting the speed of the motor allows you to find the resonant frequency which will topple a particular structure. Other earth-science-related activities, such as liquefaction or seismography, can also be investigated.

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Skippy

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Skippy.pdf

A small inexpensive dc motor with an off-center mass mounted on its shaft  is used to create a vibrating object that bounces around on a table top. By adjusting variables such as the lengths of the legs, the motion can be changed, and even controlled to some extent.

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Sliding Gray Step

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Sliding_Gray_Step.pdf

How can you make one shade of gray look like two? This snack allows you to perform this sleight of hand very easily. You will be startled by how different the same color looks when its background changes.

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Specific Heat Of Potato

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Specific_Heat_of_Potato.pdf

A calorimetry lab to determine the specific heat of potato.

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Springs and Stomachs

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Springs_and_Stomachs.pdf

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Stretch the Chain and See the Light

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Stretch_the_Chain_and_See_the_Light.pdf

A chain made from paper clips is placed in series with a battery and flashlight bulb. When the chain is stretched, the light bulb glows brighter. The explanation lies in decreased electrical resistance due to better contact between the paper clips as the chain is stretched.

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String Hyperboloid

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/String_Hyperboloid.pdf

A classic string model of a hyperboloid.

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Sweetly Balanced Equations

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Sweetly_Balanced_Equations.pdf

Pieces of candy will be used to represent atoms in chemical equations. Different colors will represent different atoms. Candy used in cludes colored m&m's, red and black Red Vine Pieces, silver-wrapped Hershey Kisses, and mini-marshmallows. Balancing an equation requires that both sides of the equation contain the same number of each kind of atom/m&m.

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Toilet Model

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Toilet_Model.pdf

PVC pipe, plastic water bottles and vinyl tubing tubing are used to make a simple working toilet model. The model shows the role of a siphon in the flushing of a toilet.

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Truss Model

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Truss_Model.pdf

Build a truss model with rigid wooden members (craft sticks) and test it to see that it works. Rigid members work in either tension or compression, but flexible members work only in tension. Try to identify the members which are in tension and replace them with members made from flexible material (e.g., string or Velcro garden strapping, or strips of manila file folder material), and test again to see if it still works.

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Waiter's Tray

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Waiter's_Tray.pdf

A cup of water  is placed on a tray suspended by strings, and can be whirled in a vertical or horizontal circle without spilling. The  tray illustrates principles involved in amusement park rides employing vertical and horizontal  circles and loops.

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Watt's a Joule?

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Watt's_a_Joule.pdfAn article I authored for the Energy issue of Exploring magazine, which was then the Exploratorium's quarterly magazine. (Vol. 18, Nr. 4, Winter 1994)

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Wilberforce Pendulum

http://www.exo.net/~donr/activities/Wilberforce_Pendulum.pdf

The Wilberforce Pendulum is a coupled pendulum in which energy is transferred between two modes of vibration, longitudinal ("bounce') and torsional ("twist"), on a spring. When properly tuned (the right mass, and the right distribution of this mass), the pendulum will transition from all bounce with no twist, to all twist with no bounce, and back again. It will continue this behavior with ever-decreasing amplitude until it finally stops. It's an unusual example of energy transformation, and is fascinating to watch.