Carbon nanotubes for kids

Carbon nanotubes for kids

 

Suspending a bucket of coins underneath flat(ish) paper
Suspending a bucket of coins underneath flat(ish) paper

Back when WhizzPopBang magazine were starting out I reviewed their first three editions.  I was so impressed with them that I took out a subscription.  I loved the way that science topics were covered in a fun and accessible way, and that even quite complex ideas were tackled.

 

This month’s edition certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front as it introduces the cutting edge topic of graphene and carbon nanotubes.

Kids can only learn if they’re interested in a topic, and it might seem bizarre but the boys had already been asking about carbon nanofiber.  You might ask how a 5 and a 7 year old have even heard of this. One word: Thunderbirds.  In the modern version of the classic show Thunderbird 5 is linked to Tracy island via a space lift made from carbon nanofiber.

 

 

 

The experiment to support the article in the magazine focused on the difference in the strength

Modelling carbon nanotubes
Modelling carbon nanotubes

of a flat sheet of carbon compared with that of a carbon nanotube, which was modelled using the load bearing capacity of flat sheets of paper versus paper rolled into tubes.

 

The experiment required only sheets of A4 paper, a yoghurt pot, string, coins for weights, sticky tape, and a couple of chairs to suspend the experiment from.  The yoghurt pot was suspended first under flat sheets of paper and coins added until the pot fell.  Then the paper was rolled into tubes, fixed with a little tape, and the experiment repeated.

Matt helped the kids set up their experiment and record their results, finding that as they expected the container suspended beneath the flat sheets of paper could take very few coins (convenient small weights) before the paper bent and everything crashed to the floor.  They had played around with paper structures enough in the past to expect a tube to be stronger, but they were astonished by how much stronger, especially when additional tubes were added.

 

 

Paper tubes suspending 33kg of bricks
Paper tubes suspending 33kg of bricks

The boys decided to expand on the experiment and ramp it up somewhat, substituting a workbench for chairs, an IKEA bag instead of the yoghurt pot, and bricks instead of coins.  Counting up the bricks and multiplying by the weight of an individual brick revealed that the tubes could suspend 33kg before they bent under the weight.

 

 

“Aha!” though Ollie “If we add more tubes then it could suspend me!”  So with much giggling, the boys added more tubes and Ollie climbed into the bag which Matt held and then gently lowered onto the paper tubes.  Success!

The experiment was a testament not just to the strength of the paper tubes, but also to that of the ubiquitous IKEA blue bag!

Ollie suspended from paper tubes
Ollie suspended from paper tubes

At each stage we reminded the boys about what we had read in the magazine article and encouraged them to tell us about fictional and real world links and applications, such as space lifts and bridges.

 

Click here more information on graphene from the University of Manchester, and here for a kid-friendly explanation of nanotechnology in general.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes: usual precautions apply when doing any activity with children, i.e. do your own risk assessment – for example there is a slight risk of dropping heavy objects on your feet.   No liability accepted for suspension of children in bags.  I have no affiliation with WhizzPopBang magazine, other than a review way back, opinions, images and activity extensions are our own.

2 Comments

  • Plutonium Sox

    15th May 2017 at 9:21 pm Reply

    This was brilliant, I loved the photo on Facebook so it’s great to read what it was all about!
    Nat.x

    • admin

      21st May 2017 at 9:36 pm Reply

      Aw thanks 🙂

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