Sunday Science Experiment

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my friend Larry, a man with enough patience to teach science to 12-year-olds. Here’s one of the tools he’s going to use in the upcoming school year — a vortex cannon! Okay, so it’s basically a trashcan with a hole cut in the bottom and a shower curtain stretched across the top, but it’s mega-cool. Basically, when you slap the shower curtain you send a surprisingly strong blast of air through the hole, demonstrating the fact that air takes up space and can be displaced. If you pick up a fog machine, you can fill the trashcan with smoke and blast out rings. Here I am shooting rings of fog out into the woods!

Thanks, Larry!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I remember Beakman once illustrated the same principle by blowing out a candle with an oatmeal canister. This is a slightly more spectacular demonstration, though.

  2. A friend of mine did the same with a large cardboard box. To make smoke, he glued a tin plate to a little insulation, and then glued that to one inside wall of the box. Place one smoke bomb inside, and you’re good to blow!

    Aaron –
    I would wager that Larry’s device could blow out a candle from across a classroom.

  3. You can make a smaller version (less exciting, I know, but also more portable) with a balloon stretched over one of those small cones people use for soccer practice.

  4. Looks fun! Shopping list: a fog machine, shower curtain, garbage can and a big cabin in the woods….

  5. Rebecca, you really shouldn’t encourage Larry and his toys.

    I’ll be dodging puffs of fog for months!

  6. Lucy, you know I can’t help it! In fact I suddenly had a grand idea: what if we throw a stink bomb in and THEN blast the air out? We could do it with the fog, or have an SBD (Silent-but-Deadly) version!

  7. The next logical step is to attach this to a robot and have remote control robot smoke fights. Although this could end poorly when the robots become self-aware.

  8. What’s wrong with you people?! I mean, how much pollution is in the air that you can actually *move* it!?? First rainbows…which were bad enough, but air that’s thick enough to make rings out of and throw around is too much for me. We must petition the government for immediate action.

  9. Rebecca pondered:
    In fact I suddenly had a grand idea: what if we throw a stink bomb in and THEN blast the air out? We could do it with the fog, or have an SBD (Silent-but-Deadly) version!

    Rebecca, I like the way you think. Put it on the back of a parade float, make it look like the device is propelling the float. Then stink them all out! Hooray Deviousness!

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