Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Science in Action: Airfoils

Understanding Flight

My middle DDs (5th grade)  had fun today learning about the relationship between air pressure and speed as well as some rudimentary mechanics of flight.  Making a simple airfoil is a great way to demonstrate these principles.  I love science, but I don't love making it hard for kids to understand by introducing complex ideas either too early or in ways which aren't clear.  This experiment keeps it simple.  I try to keep explanations straightforward and in this case the toughest part for them to grasp was why the air speed and its relation to pressure.  We focused on the the very basic concept of the air taking the same time to travel a longer distance as well as the idea that the side with more pressure will push against the side with less pressure (creating lift). Here are some simple instructions:

Create a Simple Airfoil
  1. Fold a stiff sheet of paper in slightly less than half so that the top 'half' curves.  Secure to the bottom 'half' with tape.
  2. In the middle of the fold, punch a hole through both layers.  
  3. Insert a short straw (cut a regular length straw in half) through both holes.
  4. Thread a string through the straw, leaving about 6-8 inches on each side.
  5. Wrap the string around your fingers and hold taut so that the straw is vertical and the curved half of the paper is on top.
  6. Create air movement: run, spin in a circle, or blast the airfoil with a hairdryer.
  7. Observe the airfoils climb up the string!

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