Wind Tubes

Wind Tubes
The clear tubes allow for peripheral participation: a visitor’s interest is peaked by the flying contraption. Will he move into active participation?

Wind Tubes is an activity that allows visitors to explore moving air with a variety of everyday objects. Something as simple as a clear plastic tube on top of a fan allows for the air flow to be constrained enough to be predictable in the ways in which it affects materials, while at the same time allowing for a broad range of materials to be tested. Within its walls a variety of common objects can be made to respond to the turbulent flow of air.

Strawberry baskets, craft sticks, ping pong balls, pieces of foam, all transform into aerial performers once they enter the tube. Theories and intuitions about how an object would respond are challenged, and soon enough participants start making modifications to their designs to meet their own goals: some try to make an object that will shoot as high as possible, others try to get something to hover at a fixed height for as long as possible.

What are the qualities that we value in this activity?

It’s a playful and inventive approach to learning about the effects of moving air

This is a playful and inventive way of exploring airflow, drag, symmetry, turbulence, air resistance, and gravity.

Ideas build on one another

By making observations about the ways in which an object behaves in the air tube, new designs can be realized, constructed, and immediately tested.

New uses for everyday objects

Seeing common objects such as strawberry baskets, and plastic containers behave in surprising ways leads to unexpected experiments with, and new tests of these things.

Participants explore variables

Although everyone is exploring similar scientific concepts, the experiments vary widely because of all the possible ways of changing the variables. Variables include the weight, shape, and surface area of the objects; fins and other add-ons that allow the objects to spin (or float gently in the wind); the diverse use of art materials to balance the floating creations; and the variety of ways that everyday objects are used.