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Merry Science: Take a Candle Carousel for a Spin

This fun hands-on science project mixes aerodynamics and holiday cheer!

A Christmas Pyramid Student science project Christmas Carousel
Above left: Christmas Pyramid photo by Tamorlan, via Wikimedia Commons. Above right: candle carousel created as part of a student science project.

Music, twinkling lights, bright colors—a carousel can be a feast for your senses. Maybe you remember riding one at an amusement park or carnival, or even a small coin-operated machine in front of a grocery store. Small or large, basic or fancy, all carousels need some kind of energy to make them turn.

Have you heard of a candle carousel? It isn't something that you can ride. Instead, a candle carousel is a traditional German holiday decoration. (See the image above for an example.) Also known as candle pyramids, a candle carousel has a set of fan blades at the top, like a helicopter. Below the fan blades, there are spots to place candles. What do you think happens when the candles are lit? The rising hot air from the candles pushes the fan blades, making the candle carousel spin.

Exploring Drag, Lift, and Friction

These fun decorations are a festive way to explore aerodynamics concepts such as drag, lift, and friction. If you don't have a real candle carousel to experiment with, you can construct your own with the step-by-step instructions in the Take a Candle Carousel for a Spin project at Science Buddies. Be sure to plan this activity in advance—you'll need to allow time for glue to dry, and you may need to visit a hardware store for some simple materials.

Once you have constructed your carousel, it's time to test it out! Will it spin at different speeds if you vary the number of candles that you light? How fast can you make it go? What happens when you change the angle of the fan blades? What construction materials can you use to make the fan blades spin faster or slower? A candle carousel offers many possibilities for exploration and discovery!

More Merry Science

For additional kid-pleasing projects, see the STEM at Home for Winter Break blog post.

Students interested in further aerodynamics explorations may also enjoy Project Ideas like these:

Make a colorful candle carousel!


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