Scoil Aonghusa Community N.S. is part of the Mallow Maths and Science Primary Schools Initiative, a partnership between Mary Immaculate College and a number of schools in the Mallow locality. The aim of the initiative is to promote Science Technology Engineering and Maths in school children from an early age. This partnership has seen our school host a number of teacher workshops, and we have also had a number of visits from lecturers in Mary Immaculate College who have worked with our 4th, 5th & 6th Class children. In Term 1 we hosted a stand at the Munster Maths and Science Fair held in Mallow GAA Complex. Our stand focused on the different ways we could appear to defy gravity. Our experiments and research revolved around the following concepts:
Paper helicopters – Altering the effect of gravity on objects
- We explored how some things fall and how varying the size of the rotor blades, the shape of the rotor blades and the weight of a paper helicopter affect the way a helicopter spins.
Acrobatic Clown – demonstrating the centre of gravity
- To illustrate the centre of gravity in an object, we drew and cut out the shape of a clown on a piece of paper and then tried to balance the clown on its nose. This proved very difficult.
- However, by lowering the centre of gravity by attaching coins of equal value (ie 5c coins) or Plasticine, we managed to make it balance.
Absorption and gravity
- Hydrogels are manufactured substances that absorb water and hold it in the form of a gel. They’re sometimes called “moisture-absorbing crystals” or “super-absorbent polymers”, and are used in a variety of products, including sanitary towels, wound dressings, contact lenses and bath and shower products.
- In this experiment, we identified how hydrogel can absorb water and prevent it from falling out of a cup when we turn it upside down.
Heat and gravity
- In this demonstration, we showed how atmospheric pressure can be used to stick a glass candle holder to a balloon and prevent the glass candle holder from falling from a height. The phenomenon can be explained as follows;
- – Hot air from a candle flame expands outwards and as soon as we put a balloon (containing a small amount of water) on top, we smother the candle and therefore there’s no more heat.
- The air that’s trapped between the balloon and the candle starts to cool down, contracts and then tries to get smaller. This contracting air results in low pressure between the candle and the bottom of the balloon.
- Simultaneously, atmospheric pressure is pushing on the balloon and the outside of the glass candle holder from above, below and all sides
- The low pressure between the glass and the bottom of the balloon is unable to fight the high atmospheric pressure surrounding it.
- As a result, the high atmospheric pressure holds everything together and prevents the glass from falling when it is lifter by the balloon.
Magnetism and gravity (Paperclip experiment)
- Here we showed how magnets can have an effect on gravitational forces.
- The paper clip used in this experiment floated in mid-air because the force of magnetism travelled through the air between the paper clip and the magnet.
- The paper clip did not fall when paper, cardboard, plastic, wood and coins were inserted into the space between the magnet and clip. This was because none of the objects contained any metals attracted to a magnet. The force of magnetism passed through each of them.
- However, when a metal scissors was used, the paper clip fell because the scissors contained iron or steel and was attracted to the magnet. The scissors therefore, interfered with the paper clip’s attraction to the magnet.
Following the success of the fair, we decided to further develop the idea of defying gravity and enter into the RDS Primary Science Fair in Limerick. The Fair provides an incentive for primary school children and their teachers to undertake projects as a class during the school year. The emphasis of participation is to encourage child-led investigation and for students to learn how to work scientifically and develop practical inquiry based skills.
The Fair is not a competition, the intention is to encourage a positive learning experience for each class and for participants to experience STEM subjects as part of everyday life. Showcasing a class project at the Fair also develops students’ skills in communicating their interest and knowledge of science to others. We submitted our project titled “How can we defy gravity?” and were delighted to hear we had been accepted into our very first RDS Science Fair!
Our pupils presented their project excellently and received excellent feedback from the judges along with a trophy to mark their achievement. As well as learning from our own project each pupil got the opportunity to explore the fair and investigate other projects on display.
Our Journey to the Fair
Having explored the different experiments which highlighted different ways we could appear to defy gravity, we decided to invent something that had a practical use in the real world. We put our thinking caps on and finally came up with the idea of our Space Tube (patent pending!). We based our experiment on the idea of MagLev trains in China which use opposing magnetic forces to reduce friction and increase speed.
Magnetism and gravity – “Space Tube”
- Magnetism is a natural force that acts between certain objects called magnets.
- Magnetic fields lie around every magnet
- The areas where magnetism is the strongest are called the poles of a magnet. Every magnet has at least two poles, a north and south pole.
The “Space Tube”
- In this experiment, an every day object (door stopper) appears to float in mid air when dropped into a cylinder.
- The door stopper (which has a powerful magnet attached) resists to descend each time due to their being two similar poles facing each other ie. two north poles or two south poles. (The bottom of the cylinder also contained a powerful magnet)
- However, if the door stopper is turned upside down and then dropped into the cylinder it will fall to the bottom.
- This experimented consolidated the fact that like poles repel and unlike poles attract.
We really enjoyed exploring the other projects at the fair. We visited the Junior Einstein Show, attended a physics workshop and we even met George Hook. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day.