Have you ever ridden a bicycle down a hill and felt the wind on your face? Air is all around you. To move through it, you have to push it out of the way. That means it's pushing back on you, too. That push is called air resistance. Imagine a parachutist jumping out of an airplane and falling to the ground. The opened parachute would use air resistance to slow down its descent. In this experiment, we create a parachute toy using a Ziploc® brand sandwich bag to learn about air resistance and see it in action.
This experiment is all about opposing forces. As you fall, the force of gravity pulls you down, making you fall faster and faster. But with the help of a parachute, the force of air resistance from the parachute would push against your downward motion, counterbalancing the force of gravity and slowing your fall. (Hint: The more air you push against, the more it pushes back on you.) How much your parachute slows your fall depends on how much air resistance it makes. What might be some ways to increase the air resistance? What if you had a much bigger parachute? Or a different shape of parachute? Experiment and see what happens!
Connections with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions 3-PS2-1
Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
Test the parachute with different toys and tinker with the design of the parachute to change the effect of air resistance.
- Permanent markers (soft felt-tipped)
- 2 small toys (1 to 2 inches big)
- 1 Gather your materials.
- 2 Use soft felt-tipped permanent markers to decorate the Ziploc® brand sandwich bag . This will be your parachute.
- 3 Turn the top edge of the bag inside out to keep the bag open.
- 4 Cut two pieces of string each 14-inches long.
- 5 Cut a piece of straw 2-inces long.
- 6 Pull one of the strings through the straw
- 7 Reach into the bag and pull both bottom corners in, so they’re inside the bag.
- 8 Tie each end of the string to each inside corner of the bag
- 9 Pull the second string through the same straw.
- 10 Tie your small toy to the second string so that your toy becomes attached to your parachute. It’s now the passenger!
- 11 Find a high point to drop your toy. You can go to the top of a set of stairs or stand on a chair. Drop the parachute and watch its descent! To see air resistance in action, simultaneously drop the toy with the parachute and an identical toy without a parachute. How much longer does the toy with the parachute take to fall? Can you think of a way to extend the duration of the fall even longer?