Research the famous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge.
What lessons were learned about the potentially damaging effects of wind on bridges? What structures stabilize a bridge against wind forces? Build models and use a wind tunnel to test your hypothesis.
Have you ever flown in an airplane, or looked up at one flying in the sky, and wondered how such a massive machine can stay in the air? Airplanes can stay in the air because their wings, also referred to as airfoils, generate lift. Engineers use devices called wind tunnels to experiment and test different wing shapes when they design new airplanes. Wind tunnels let engineers make careful measurements of the air flow around the wing, and measure the amount of lift it generates.
If you can get…
How much difference does the spiraling motion of a well-thrown football make on the distance of the throw (compared to wobbling, or end-over-end motion of the ball)? Think of a way to reproducibly produce the desired ball motion and launch it with a constant force to find out. (For more information on the physics, see Gay, 2004.)
Does the force of drag have an effect on the distance the puck will travel? Think of a way to launch the puck with a reproducible force, and examine the effect of launching the puck in different orientations on the distance it travels. For more information on the physics, see Haché, 2002.
Think of a way to launch the puck with a reproducible force, and examine the effect of launching the puck in different orientations on the distance it travels. For more information on the physics, see Haché, 2002.
A technique often used in wind tunnels is to introduce smoke in front of the airfoil that is being tested. The smoke comes from regularly-spaced point sources, and the wind flow in the tunnel spreads it out into parallel lines, called streamlines. The streamlines make it possible to visualize the airflow over the airfoil. When the lines continue smoothly over and past the airflow, they show that the flow remains laminar, and that the airfoil is creating very little drag. When the…
Did you know that commercial airline pilots use high-tech flight simulators to learn how to fly big jumbo jets? Before they ever step behind the controls of a real jet they've already logged thousands of virtual air miles. It might not qualify you to fly a real jumbo jet, but you, too, can learn the logistics of aviation by experimenting with the types of flight simulators sold at computer game retailers. Use a flight simulator to investigate the relationship between flap settings and the stall…
Winglets are the short vertical "fins" at the wingtips of some airplanes. Have you ever wondered why they are there? If you have access to a wind tunnel, you can build model airfoils with and without winglets and see for yourself. If you're really ambitious, you can also build your own wind tunnel.
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Very Long (1+ months)
Experience building airfoils, access to a wind tunnel for testing.
Specialty Items (wind tunnel for testing airfoils)
You can make a very simple hovercraft with a stiff, disposable plate-a pie plate should work well-and a balloon. Glue a square of cardboard in the center of the bottom of the plate. Make a small hole through the center of both of these layers. Enlarge the hole slightly with a pencil. Push a balloon through the hole so that the opening is on the front side of the plate, and rest of the balloon sticks out from the back. Blow up the balloon, then set the plate down (balloon side up). What…
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