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Backyard Science: Another way to Recycle

Updated on June 6, 2015
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Neil has a BA in Liberal Arts, a minor in Computer Science and finished classes for a master’s in instructional and performance technology.

This is a commercial tube designed to attach two 2-liter bottles together in order to show what a tornado looks like.
This is a commercial tube designed to attach two 2-liter bottles together in order to show what a tornado looks like.

One of the goals of using recycled materials is to keep it simple and cheap. If there are not enough 2 liter bottles (or ice cream tubs) around for the experiments, a good resource may be the local recycling center. Likewise when the experiment is done, the bottles and other materials should be returned to the recycling center.

At a county fair I noticed a project where participants made catapults out of popsicle sticks, a rubber band (the kind that comes on your morning newspaper) and in one case, a clothes pin. These are simple items that are often discarded, but when given to the creative mind of a child (and most of us are children at heart), they can be converted to a classic demonstration of levers, one of the simple machines we were supposed to learn about in elementary school.

This reminded me of a family reunion where my cousin broke out a tire pump and connected it to a PVC pipe assembly with duct tape wrapped around one end. He placed a 2 liter bottle on the end and pumped it up till the rocket (the 2 liter bottle we’d emptied earlier in the day) shot into the air. Later while working for an education out reach program we would improve on this system with an air compressor and a fancy release system, but we were still recycling those 2 liter bottles (and learning Newton’s laws of motion along the way).

Another way to use those bottles is a with tornado tube. While commercial versions of this device are available, duct taping the mouths of two 2-liter bottles together works almost as well. With one bottle almost full of water, and the other bottle empty, when you turn the whole thing over, and give the top bottle a little shake, you can see a tornado form as the water flows from the top bottle to the bottom.

Do you have an empty ice cream tub, or a small bucket that won’t hold water? Cut a hole almost as big as the bottom in the small end and then cover the large opening (where the lid would go) with a garbage bag or a piece of an old shower curtain (any sturdy flexible plastic sheet will do). Aim the hole at an unsuspecting victim and hit the plastic like a drum. The burst of air is harmless, but will be quite a surprise. This simple air cannon can demonstrate how air moves!

On the internet and at the local library, there are resources that give many other ideas for science projects at home. Check your recycle bin, and with a little imagination it’s likely that your children will come up with more. The younger a child gets involved in science the greater the chances they’ll stick with it and keep technology moving forward.



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