While half of the tinkering team is in Saudi Arabia facilitating at the al-khobar science festival, back at HQ, the rest of us are continuing the process of building exhibit prototypes, developing the Tinkering Studio space, and messing around with new ideas. We've been working on is a new version of wind tubes, one of our favorite tinkering activities. The idea is to build a complementary exhibit that removes the clear tube from the equation and allows visitors to explore how objects move in a stream of air on a 'wind table'. We got inspired by a version of this concept that we saw a while back when visiting Explora in Albuquerque and we've been thinking about figuring out a way to offer a wind table experience alongside our classic wind tubes in the Tinkering Studio.
Paradoxically the first step to making a "tubeless" wind tube was adding more tubes in the form of bubble tea straws, which direct the turbulent air into a streamlined laminar flow (and look beautiful). Yesterday, Walter and Nicole built a prototype that uses three vornado fans, a giant sonotube and about 1072 colorful straws. As soon as they turned on the fans, all of us in learning studio started testing things out.
We built some really neat flyers out of dixie cups, strawberry baskets, washers, feathers, playing cards and masking tape. Even without the tube, we got some of the objects to stay in the flow of air for more than ten or fifteen seconds. The most consistent flyer was a dixie cup cut in half and scored with diagonal cuts to make a mini spiral. Other, heaver objects behaved more like 'wind tops' and skittered across the surface of straws. We noticed that blocking some of the tubes on the top with our hands increased the air pressure and shot heaver objects up in the air (the opposite effect of the regular wind tubes).
If our early explorations are any indication, we think that the wind table idea will take us to new heights (pun intended). One measure of success for this exhibit is that all of us abandoned all of our other work and compulsively kept tweaking our contraptions and coming up with new iterations and ideas for the perfect flyer. Whenever we as a group are having tremendous fun trying out a new idea, we have a pretty good idea that others will be engaged as well. Soon we'll bring the prototype version of the exhibit out into the Tinkering Studio to test with visitors, but until then, check out some of the first flying objects that we made on the wind table (which admittedly is a better name than the original 'tubeless wind tube with many tubes' idea).