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Simple Hovercraft

Hovercraft transport people and their stuff across ice, grass, swamp, water, and land. Also known as the Air Cushioned Vehicle (ACV), these machines use air to greatly reduce the sliding friction between the bottom of the vehicle (the skirt) and the ground. This is a great example of how lubrication works – most people think of oil as the only way to reduce sliding friction, but gases work well if done right.


In this case, the readily-available air is shoved downward by the pressure inside of balloon. This air flows down through the nozzle and out the bottom, under the CD, lifting it slightly as it goes and creating a thin layer for the CD to float on.


Although this particular hovercraft only has a ‘hovering’ option, I’m sure you can quickly figure out how to add a ‘thruster’ to make it zoom down the table! (Hint – you will need to add a second balloon!)


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Tracking your Treads

skateboarderNow let’s talk about the other ever present force on this Earth, and that’s friction. Friction is the force between one object rubbing against another object. Friction is what makes things slow down.


Without friction things would just keep moving unless they hit something else. Without friction, you would not be able to walk. Your feet would have nothing to push against and they would just slide backward all the time like you’re doing the moon walk.


Friction is a very complicated interaction between pressure and the type of materials that are touching one another. Let’s do a couple of experiments to get the hang of what friction is.
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What a Drag!

bearThere’s a couple of misconceptions that I’d like to make sure get cleared up here a bit. I don’t want to go into too much detail but I want to make sure to mention these as they may be important as you go deeper into your physics education.


First, friction is not a fundamental force. Friction is actually caused by the elemental force of electro-magnetism between two objects.


Secondly, friction isn’t “caused” by the roughness or smoothness of an object. Friction is caused by two objects, believe it or not, chemically bonding to one another. Scientists call it “stick and slip”.


Think about it this way. When you pull the wood in this experiment, notice that the force needed to get the board moving was more then the force was to keep it moving. The surface you were pulling the board on never got any rougher or smoother, it stayed pretty much the same.


So why was it harder to get the board moving?


When the board is just sitting there, the chemical bonds between the board and the surface can be quite strong. When the board is moving however, the bonds are much weaker.
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Stick & Slip

runshoeFriction is everywhere! Imagine what the world would be like without friction! Everything you do, from catching baseballs to eating hamburgers, to putting on shoes, friction is a part of it. If you take a quick look at friction, it is quite a simple concept of two things rubbing together.


However, when you take a closer look at it, it’s really quite complex. What kind of surfaces are rubbing together? How much of the surfaces are touching? And what’s the deal with this stick and slip thing anyway? Friction is a concept that’s many scientists are spending a lot of time on. Understanding friction is very important in making engines and machines run more efficiently and safely.


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Exponential Friction

expfrictionFind a smooth, cylindrical support column, such as those used to support open-air roofs for breezeways and outdoor hallways (check your local public school or local church). Wind a length of rope one time around the column, and pull on one end while three friends pull on the other in a tug-of-war fashion.


Experiment with the number of friends and the number of winds around the column. Can you hold your end with just two fingers against an entire team of football players? You bet!



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Bearings

bearingStand on a cookie sheet or cutting board which is placed on the floor (find a smooth floor with no carpet). Ask someone to gently push you across the floor. Notice how much friction they feel as they try to push you.


Want to make this job a bit easier?


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Hovercraft

hovercraftHovercraft transport people and their stuff across ice, grass, swamp, water, and land. Also known as the Air Cushioned Vehicle (ACV), these machines use air to greatly reduce the sliding friction between the bottom of the vehicle (the skirt) and the ground. This is a great example of how lubrication works – most people think of oil as the only way to reduce sliding friction, but gases work well if done right.


In this case, the readily-available air is shoved downward by the hover motor and the skirt traps the air and keeps it inside, thus lifting the vehicle slightly. The thruster motor’s job is to propel the craft forward. Most hovercraft use either two motors (one on each side) for steering, or just one with a rudder that can deflect the flow (as your project does).


The first hovercraft were thought about in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that real ones were first tested. Today, the military use them for patrolling hard-to-drive areas, scientists use them for swamp research studies, and businesses use them to transport toys and food across rough and icy areas. Scientists are already planning future ACVs to use magnetic levitation in addition to the air power… but it’s still on the drawing board.


Are you ready to make your own? We have TWO different models to choose from. Click this link for the Easy Balloon-Powered Model, or keep reading below for the advanced version.

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