Science Experiment: Centripetal Force – Hex Nut Balloon

Science Experiment: Centripetal Force – Hex Nut Balloon

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Have you ever put a coin in one of those wishing wells that is shaped like a giant funnel? The coin rolls around and around the sides of the funnel in smaller and smaller circles until it goes down the hole in the middle of the well? That coin is demonstrating centripetal forceCentripetal force is the force that pulls a thing toward the center of rotation….like the little whirlpool that forms when you drain the bathtub or like the Zinga at Holiday World! Why IS that water slide called Zinga? Because in Swahili Zinga means “to move in a circular motion”. Lots of amusement park rides work because of the laws of physics.

You can use a balloon to demonstrate centripetal force.

What You Need:

  • Balloon
  • Hex Nut

Blow up a large balloon. Before you close the balloon, put a hex nut in it and then tie the end of the balloon closed. Hold the balloon between your hands and move it in a circular motion until the hex nut starts to roll around the inside of the balloon. Now stop moving the balloon and watch what happens to the hex nut. What you are seeing is centripetal force. The hex nut is on a circular path inside the balloon. Things that are moving in a curved or circular motion will slowly move toward the center of the circle, in this case, the bottom of the balloon. What sound does the hex nut make? How about a penny? A marble? Try them all and see how they behave the same or differently.

Here are some websites that will help you look at centripedal force and other physics laws that make amusement park rides work the way they do:

Here are some books that will help you demonstrate Centripedal force and learn more about it:

Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes Super Simple Things to Do With Balloons Big Roller Coasters Speed and Acceleration

Words to Know:

Centripetal Force – A force that makes an object move in a  circular path toward the center around which the object is moving. It is the force that pulls a thing toward the center of rotation.

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2 Responses »

  1. Thanks for the centripetal force page and the balloon idea, which I hope to use in a class demonstration. The comment about amusement park rides is a bit confusing; my guess is you meant to say the rides work according to the laws of physics, or are useful for explaining Newtonian mechanics, or something along those lines. One might get the idea there are amusement park rides that do not obey the laws of physics!

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