Do you enjoy eating potatoes? How about launching them across the dinner table? Our “Science Guy” Jason Lindsey and a kid scientist show us how to engineer a potato launcher.
Go to – and click on Hooked on Science for this experiment and others that might get you and the entire family “Hooked on Science.”
Potatoes, you may have recently had some for supper, but did you know you can use a raw potato, just like this one here, along with a copper tube, and a dowel rod to engineer your very own potato launcher. That’s exactly what my science helper, Ethan and I have done.
Here’s what you’ve got to do first. Take your copper tube, hold the potato just like this, and stab it, just stab it just like that, that’s very important. Let me go to the opposite end and do the same thing. Stab it just like that, so I have two potato plugs inside my copper tube.
Now, Ethan is going to launch this across the room. Put your googles on, here, I’ll help you here, safety first. Okay Ethan, go! WOW! We almost hit the camera person. As you push the dowel rod farther into the copper tube, the volume of the trapped air decreases while the air pressure does what Ethan? Increases! Launching the potato plug across the room. Learn more at hookedonscience.org.
· 36-inch Wooden Dowel Rod
· 24-inch Copper Tube
STEP 1: Push one end of the copper tube into the potato. Pull the tube out of the potato.
STEP 2: Push the other end of the copper tube into the potato. Pull the tube out of the potato.
STEP 3: Use the wooden dowel rod to push one of the potato plugs about 6 inches into the copper tube.
STEP 4: Push the dowel rod into the copper tube and observe. Using the ruler, determine how far the potato plug launched.
STEP 5: Repeat steps 1 through 3. This time, using more force, push the dowel rod into the copper tube and observe. Using the ruler, determine how far the potato plug launched. Describe the effects of different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of the potato plugs. Provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict the future motion of the potato plugs.
As you push the dowel rod into the copper tube, the volume of the trapped air decreases, while the pressure increases. This forces one of the potato plugs out of the tube, into the air. Go to www.hookedonscience.org for more experiments that might get you and your family “Hooked on Science.”
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Jason Lindsey is an award-winning science educator and author. Jason studied science and journalism at Western Kentucky University, focusing on general science with an emphasis in meteorology and climatology. Each year he performs hands-on science experiments at hundreds of schools and community events throughout the United States, as well as produces and hosts a hands-on science segment airing on television stations across the nation. He previously worked as a chief meteorologist, backpack journalist, science reporter and webmaster.