The wind tube is a very popular exhibit to tinker with. A big fan blows air upwards and the transparant plastic tube makes the airstream to flow in a nice and constant stream. At the Tinkering Studio, as well as at many other places, many experimenting has been done with different materials. See also: /tinkering/projects/wind-tubes.
One of the downsides of the wind tubes activity is that it generates quite a mess: cut pieces of paper, tape and cardboard, entangled pipe cleaners, broken strawberry baskets and so on. We are wondering if we can come up with materials that are a little bit more reusable, but at the same time enable visitors to tinker around to a high extent. Here are some things we tested out. (See https://www.flickr.com/gp/tinkering_studio/781N31 for the whole collection of pictures and videos taken).
Kite fabric is strong and light. We wanted to make pieces of kite fabric that we could bend or mold in a certain shape, and that it would stay that way. We made some holes in the fabric using a soldering iron. This way, visitors could stick pipe cleaners in the holes and make parachutes and wings. It works quite well, but the downside of this option is that it isn't really surprising that it flies - i.e. the behavior of the wings and parachute forms isn't that unexpected.
We also made rectangles out of kite fabric, that had 3M VHB tape folded in it at one side, to make the shape a bit more sturdy. And we used 3M dual lock (some sort of a two way velcro), in order to connect the sheets.
It all worked quite well, but again the behavior of the material wasn't that exciting, and it didn't allow for much tinkering and different iterations.
We also tried pieces of pool noodles. And again it was fun, but it didn't really give unexpected behavior.
One day Dana Schloss (from ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, Oregon) came by. In the meantime I had bought some mosquito screen (fine mazed aluminum mesh). She suggested to melt some pieces of plastic bags on either sides.
This way it is possible to bend the sheets, and have them hold on to their shape! We were gettng somewhere. The only downside of this method (apart from the time it costs to make proper sheets) is that if you bend the sheets a few times, some of the little aluminum strands could pop out and hurt you. The plastic is not flexible and thick enough to keep this from happening. So we tried to make a sheet of mesh covered with a thin layer of sillicone rubber. This took some time, and made for some nasty fumes, but we succeeded in doing this. The only thing though is that this way, the sheets get to heavy to actually float in a moderate upwards flow of air.
And then we ran into floam. This is moldable and sticks to itself. We combined it with transparant plastic sheets, and lightweight paperclips. Now we had some material, that is shapeable in many different forms, can be adjusted very subtly and is light enough to fly.
I looks very promissing. One of the challenges is that the floam sticks to the inside of the tube. We will test it out some more with visitors to figure out if this is too big of a downside, or that we can just see it as an extra hurdle you should tinker your way around.
To be continued!