The Vortex Device

In this experiment you can build a vortex device (vortex cannon) to create a pressure wave that transmits a lot of energy! We used one to set up our own Angry Birds game.

The first thing you need to do is get a big cardboard box (bigger the better)…we used 12x12x12 in. Close the box and seal all of the seams with tape. You want to make sure that you get the box to be as air tight as you can. Then, cut a hole on one side…about 5-6 inches wide.

Next you want to fill the box with smoke. The easiest thing we found was to get some incense and have it fill the box with some fragrant smoke…just put the box opening directly over the incense. Adult supervision is required for this part!

Now set up your target!  We used styrofoam cups and a bunch of plush pigs from the Angry Birds game.  Here is a pig awaiting his demise.

And here is what our first stack looked like:

To shoot the pressure wave, aim the box’s hole towards your target, and quickly hit the sides the the box. Try to come up with some crazy setups and see if you can knock them over with your vortex gun!

What’s going on here?

When you hit the sides of the box, you are transferring energy from your hands into a wave.  You might be wondering what exactly a wave is… A wave is simply something a disturbance that moves through space and transfers some amount of energy. At the beach, you probably notice waves crashing on the shore. Those waves travel through the ocean and often come from far away (sometimes thousands of miles). If you are in the middle of the ocean, you can feel them passing by when they lift your boat up and then back down.

Waves can also travel through air. With the vortex cannon, you can see this when the energy travels from the box to the cups (and pigs). With the smoke, you can even watch the pressure wave move. Pretty cool!

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