Physics lab tests gravity with egg drop

*Editor’s note:  Photos were taken by students in COMM 1316 News Photography, including: Esosa Iyengunmwena, Isabela Salas, Joshua Cantu, Noah Lopez, Payton Hinojosa, Sydney Oates, and Trista Stanley

There’s a definite Humpty Dumpty feel to this physics lab.  But instead of a wall, these raw eggs took a fall from a 6-foot step ladder. 

“The students are studying gravity (free fall vs. falling with air resistance),” Bouldin says, “and collisions.”

So, learning by doing, students in Kim Bouldin’s PHYS-1410 Elementary Physics lab worked in teams to create raw egg carriers.  Each carrier was entered in an egg drop contest.

“We try to do this lab every semester,” Bouldin says.  “It’s one of our fun labs.”

To build their carriers, students chose recycled items from a big box in the back of the lab.

It was obvious each team worked hard to plan and construct each container.  Some teams opted to use cardboard tubes.  Others, empty plastic bottles.  And course, there was a lot of tape and bubble wrap.

“I love to see the different, creative approaches the lab teams use to protect their eggs,” Bouldin says.

The teams that use some sort of parachute, she says, generally fair better than the others.

“They learn that an object can be brought to terminal velocity at a lower speed by increasing air resistance of the falling body,” she says.  “And example of this is a skydiver deploying his parachute  By increasing his air resistance, he brings himself down to a safe landing speed.”

A tall volunteer dropped each container from the top of a stepladder.  Students waited and watched. The resounding “thud”, “thunk”, or quiet landings hinted at the results.

It turns out winning is more complicated than just the egg surviving the fall.   To “win” the contest, Bouldin says students also had to weigh their entries.

“The students weighed the carriers in order to determine the smallest vessel in the competition,” Bouldin says.  “One application of this lab is the landing of the rovers on Mars.  Size of instrumentation is an important issue to keep the payload light, especially with limited fuel.”

Winners of the contest chose stickers from a basket.  Those who didn’t actually “win” at least took home some knowledge.  Clean up was quick.  And there were lots of smiles.  As Bouldin says, “Gravity is, indeed, a harsh mistress!”

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