Shared by: Girlstart
Recommended Grades: 4th, 5th, 6th
The Challenge: Take a trip to the future! Explore the effects of airflow and friction as you engineer a hovercraft to glide across a table.
- 9-inch balloon
- Clear or masking tape
- Hot glue gun
- Old CD or DVD
- Pop-top cap from a sports water bottle
- Push pin
- Cover one side of the center hole of the CD or DVD with a piece of clear or masking tape.
- Use a push pin to poke 6-10 small holes in the tape over the center hole of the CD or DVD.
- Use the hot glue gun to glue the pop-top water bottle cap to the taped-over center of the CD or DVD. Avoid covering the air holes with hot glue. Make sure to create a tight seal around the water bottle cap so no air escapes! Safety: an adult should assist when using a hot glue gun.
- Fill the balloon with air, but don’t tie it yet! Pinch the neck of the balloon to keep the air from escaping.
- Make sure the pop-top water bottle cap is closed and carefully fit the neck of the air-filled balloon over the cap.
- Once you’re ready to test your hovercraft, place the CD or DVD on a smooth table surface and open the pop-top water bottle cap. Watch it glide!
Make a video of your creation and share it on Flipgrid.
For a PDF version of this activity, click on the following link: TABLETOP HOVERCRAFT
How does this activity connect to STEM and today's Girl Day theme of Moving Around: Land, Water, Air, and Space?
Have you ever played air hockey at a game arcade? The puck appears to magically glide across the table! In reality, lots of air is pushed upwards through hundreds of tiny holes in the table, creating an air cushion between the table and puck that reduces friction. Friction is a force that stops two solid objects from sliding along each other. The reduced-friction surface between the puck and air hockey table allows the puck to move over the table very quickly and in every direction.
Your CD hovercraft works the same way! As the balloon deflates, air rushes out from the pop-top water bottle cap and through the tiny holes you punched in the tape. The air escapes from under the CD in every direction, creating a thin cushion between the CD and tabletop. The CD’s weight, shape, and smooth texture reduce friction between the CD and the tabletop. Then, when you add in the thin cushion of air from the balloon, you get a CD hovercraft that glides almost frictionlessly across the tabletop.
Aerospace engineers design spacecrafts, missiles, rovers, and more. They modify, test, and help create all types of flying machines, ensuring these vehicles are effective and safe for space exploration.
Meet Christina Diaz!
Christina Diaz is an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Growing up, her mother and father both encouraged her to pursue her curiosity about science, engineering, and the universe. In 2013, Diaz graduated with a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from California Polytechnic State University, and she began working at NASA’s JPL shortly after. Christina works on the Mars 2020 rover mission, which seeks to discover whether there was life on Mars in the past and if conditions on the planet are appropriate to install a permanent base on its surface. Diaz ensures that the science instruments they send to the Martian surface are designed, built, tested, and operated correctly. This involves collaborating with engineers in her lab and all around the world! When not traveling the world or in the lab, Diaz loves to read, hike, and cook.
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