This blog post is about a great demonstration I got from David Featonby from the Institute of Physics and a little adaptation I thought about after seeing his version. He tipped us all up on a really cool vacuum container to store coffee which you can find here. Then, he put a teddy bear shaped marshmallow in, closed the lid and sucked the air out. The effect is really dramatic as you see the teddy bear mallow increasing in size and become “huge”. My boys think it is a Humongous Mallow (only avid Ben 10 fans will understand the reference).
Anyway, the advantage of using this container instead of a normal empty bottle of wine is that you can put much bigger things inside and that’s where I thought of this additional demo to do with this device. There are various ways in which you could introduce the demo. For example, you could watch a bit of a scientifically questionable Sci-fi film and ask your kids “Is it possible?” The clip I have in mind is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo hides the Millenium Falcon inside an Asteroid cave (which turns to be a giant worm’s belly). In that part of the film the crew goes out of the spaceship wearing their normal clothes and just a tiny breathing mask, as if
The point here is that if Han Solo and friends were on an asteroid in outer space, they would be surrounded by almost perfect vacuum and their internal body pressure would cause them to pop as soon as they get out of the ship! So, what would your students think? Would they believe it is possible? Would they think they would just freeze?
At this point you can show your coffee saver and put a tea cake inside. Then, ask the kids what they think would happen if we could take most of the air out!
And see their faces as this happens!
You can now go back and ask the same question from the Star Wars clip. Is it possible? What would happen to Han Solo and his crew?
Please, see my next blog post as there is an interesting update pointed out by Ashley Kent (@AshleyKent) that suggests that your body wouldn’t actually blow up in space! So, the demo is becoming even more interesting and pedagogically really valuable, as we have the opportunity to really confuse our kids up to then let them construct a new and stronger meaning. This is active Constructivism and Metacognitive Conflict brought to its extremes
Thank you Ashley for pointing this out!