Top Five Physics Experiments Using a High Vacuum Pump

As a member of the science education industry, often teachers ask what is the best and most vivid experiments they can do in their classrooms to teach physics with a high vacuum pump. Over the past ten years, these five have become my favorite physics demonstrations demonstrating properties of matter and high vacuum physics.

Of course, to get started, you’ll need a vacuum pump, high vacuum tubing with tubing clamps, a vacuum pump plate, and a good quality bell jar. It also doesn’t hurt to have some vacuum grease or petroleum jelly handy to lubricate and seal between the bell jar and the pump plate. And now onto the top five:

5. Shaving Cream Expansion – Put a little dab (technical term) of shaving cream inside your bell jar (which is then sealed onto the pump plate), turn the pump on and watch the molecules spread themselves out and the Shaving Cream grows! Be careful not to let it run too much where you pull the Creme into the vacuum pump though!

4. Grow a Balloon – place a balloon, filled a little bit and tied off inside your bell jar and turn the pump on. Students will be curious as to why the balloon expanded while the air is pulled from the chamber.

3. Springtime (Easter) Peep Monster – place one of those terribly unhealthy, yet tasty, sugar coated marshmallows, THE PEEP, inside your bell jar. Turn on the pump and watch your baby peep turn into a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man peep!

2. Did you hear a bell ringing? – place an electric bell or kitchen timer inside your chamber and turn on the pump. Make sure the bell is turned on! As the air molecules are pulled from the chamber, the sound will slowly disappear until it is gone! Great way to explain to students why an astronaut would never be heard if he were to start screaming while in outer space.

1. Cool Boiling Water – My all time favorite. It is absolutely critical that your pump is a “high vacuum” pump and not just a vacuum pump. You’ll need to pull a much higher vacuum than the 25″ of mercury some pumps offer to do this. Place a plastic bottle or petri dish in the chamber filled about half way up with water. Demonstrate to your students that the water is at room temperature and not hot to the touch. Put it in the vacuum chamber, turn on the pump, and in no time you’ll have room temperature water simmering at a rapid boil. What better way to explain the effects on vapor points in different atmospheric pressure?

You can do a quick search on the internet and find all of these supplies from virtually every science education dealer. One tip, keep an eye on your vacuum pump oil level and drain and change any contaminated oil. Be sure to use “High Vacuum Pump Oil” as standard vacuum oil or other “home remedy” solutions (See: motor oil, vegetable oil, etc) will not allow the pump to continue operating properly!

Physics and Swimming Insight W/ Team USA Swimming High Performance Consultant, Russell Mark

Russell Mark is a USA Swimming National Team High Performance Consultant. He is an adviser for the development of Team USA Olympic swimmers, working directly with them and their respective coaches, providing training and racing feedback and steps for improvement.

For nearly the last 10 years, Russell Mark has studied countless hours of film and talked technique with the best coaches and swimmers in the world so that he could understand the intricacies of all the strokes. With this knowledge, he has worked directly to help the USA National Team, given hundreds of lectures on swimming technique, and contributed to many books and research articles.

While swimming at the University of Virginia, Mark graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering. He then pursued a career in engineering, briefly doing work in Pratt & Whitney’s experimental military jet engine programs. This unlikely career path has served Mark well in the swimming world, utilizing his knowledge in physics, fluid dynamics, and engineering to identify and advise what makes the fastest swimmers.

Q. Seems like such a diverse background for your current position, could you elaborate on the synergies between your previous studies and profession and your present job?

A. Actually, it all came together pretty well. My collegiate swimming background and degree in aerospace engineering were the perfect tools for me to be able to remain in my life passion of swimming on a professional level and provide real value in helping Team USA Swimming, you could say my dream job. There is more physics involved in swimming than I think people realize and my education provided a knowledge base to look at film of our athletes in a different light. I analyze mechanics and forces to provide our swimmers their best opportunity to perform at their optimal human level.

Q. What is your overall impression of USA Swimming from the 2012 London Olympics?

A. It was a tremendous Olympiad in London for Team USA, not only did we succeed at our goals, but had a diverse group of medal winners, young and old, and feel we have a good collection of swimmers for the future.

Q. Training or Race Day, which do you prefer?

A. For me it’s all about the journey. Analyzing film, prepping, the training and thought process that is required all accumulates to race day, or the results of everyone’s hard work!

Q. Could you explain some of the technologies Team USA Swimming utilizes in training? Which tech gadget, app or device do you believe provides the most important feedback in analyzing your swimmers?

A. Technology is pretty simple for Team USA swimming, our most effective gadgets include underwater videotaping with waterproof camcorders, our Ipad for video analyzing and pace clock. We have recently developed software that tracks and stores stroke counts and tempo or frequency to analyze our athletes. Below is an example of a Missy Franklin Race Chart using our Race Stats software from the 2012 London Olympics.

Q. For the novice swimmer looking to better their performance, are there any consumer fitness gadgets or apps you would recommend?

A. If you have the capabilities, I would definitely suggest an underwater camera, but I know that is not available for everyone. A pace clock would be a good start for anyone looking to improve their speed, endurance and track interval times. There are a couple tools that I will mention in detail later that can be used to work on technique but are not technology based, like a snorkel and fins.

Q. What’s ahead for USA Swimming and the 2016 Olympics, anyone we should be paying close attention to?

A. USA Swimming is very exciting and interesting, many instances have occurred at trials when a (publicly) unknown individual comes out of the dark and surprises even the field. We feel very confident in our young swimmers from the London Olympics towards the future and have one of the best junior programs in swimming.

Q. Any basic swimming technique tricks of Olympic athlete’s you could share with our readers looking for that extra little edge or just started swimming?

A. Head and Body position is the foundation of swimming; I would perfect those techniques before moving forward in swimming. Some recommended tools I would suggest are fins (keeps legs up and increases strength) and a snorkel (head goes down). When the head is lifted up in order to breathe, above water the hips and legs move downward and begin to drag and decrease speed. To become a solid swimmer it’s important to work on your breathing technique. Use a snorkel occasionally to work on your stroke while not having to focus on breathing technique. exercises to lengthen the amount of time you can keep your head submerged and body working. Everything in swimming happens under the water; once you start feeling comfortable with these basic techniques you can begin thinking technical with pace tracking and video feedback.