Vacuum Cannon Tips

After sending out a few cannons, I decided to send out a “Tips” sheet in the cannon packaging to help people get started. I’m reproducing it here for those who didn’t get it:

Vacuum Cannon Tips

  • The pipe suppliers are used to providing for large scale filtration systems. They care not about little nicks and scratches on the pipes. I sand off the more obvious burrs (so the pipe might look a bit battered) but they will have no effect on the performance of your cannon.
  • Please don’t underestimate how loud it is close up; it makes your ears ring for some time afterwards if you fire it with no protection. The shooter DEFINITELY needs ear defence of some sort because they won’t have their hands free to cover their ears.
  • Flanges (pictured) do make it easier to prepare and fire. There are many ways to obtain some. You can use cardboard, old mini-whiteboards, 3D printing… Thomas found that his tech department were very happy to be involved, knocked out laser cut flanges within a day and enjoyed the test firing process!
  • The tapered holes for the valve make a very good seal, but if in doubt PTFE plumbing tape will make the seal even better. Thomas has not needed it apart from the early prototype.

Firing

Please warn your colleagues! You don’t want an evacuation because of a suspected shooter on the premises. This has happened. “Duds” are possible, but can be mostly avoided with the following approach:

  1. Don’t forget to roll the ping-pong ball all the way down the tube. This is easier before you add the tape because of the ball’s tight fit.
  2. It is worth taking care with the taping of each end. The rear just needs to be secure. The front needs to be secure but not too secure! Take care on the front, cut a square piece of tape and carefully fit it to the front of the tube. Try to fold back and stick as little as possible. You want the least folding and sticking that will support the vacuum. Trial and error will help you work out the optimum. We believe the tape blows off, so you want that to happen before the ball arrives.
    (If you have flanges, this step is much easier, just cut a square and make sure it is securely pressed all round the circle of the tube and gently stuck to the flange.)
  3. Let the pump run for a while. You know very quickly if you have a bad seal because you will hear cracks from the tape and then the frustrating hiss of air being sucked in. If it is working nicely it gets to a pretty good vacuum very quickly but if you wait 10 seconds or so it continues to increase.
  4. Pierce the rear tape. Scissors are fine. It fails catastrophically and very very loudly. It is worth checking there is no tape hiding in the tube before loading the next ball.
  5. Please share your experiences on twitter @physicstp or Facebook.

17. Smashing Neutrons, Supporting Non-Specialists and Surviving No Practicals

Thomas and Robin chat about Kilonova (neutron star collisions that create heavy elements), ways of supporting non-specialists and what to do when practicals fail.

Timestamps

  • Neutron Stars and Kilonova @ 2:45
  • Science(ish) Podcast and their episode “Is LIGO right?” @ 4:05
  • Flywheels for energy storage @ 5:22
  • Faking being a Physics Specialist @ 5:54
  • Tips for non-specialists @ 8:20
  • Practicals going wrong – ripple tanks @ 10:42
  • Practicals going wrong – cloud chamber @ 13:17
  • Dealing with practicals that go wrong @ 15:44
  • Teaching Physics with no practicals @ 17:09
  • Send us your tips @ 23:29

Summary

Physics in the news this week talks about Neutron Stars and how their collisions (Kilonova) create the heavier elements through neutron bombardment. This leads on to LIGO and the controversy around whether its results are right or not. Science(ish) Podcast has covered this in depth in their episode “Is LIGO right?”. Thomas reports on the Vacuum cannon sales (6 at the time of writing) and gets sidetracked on to talking about some research he did in to flywheels. Robin muses about how you can use the Physics in the News to fake being a Physics Specialist and Thomas and Robin discuss their lack of knowledge outside physics (Nose-buds anyone?) and suggest tips for non-specialists to make their knowledge appear deeper than it is. Thomas reports back on his failed practical work last week and begs the listener for advice on using a ripple tank or making a cloud chamber. Finally, Thomas reports that Patrick Kaplo has challenged the podcast to support lessons with no practicals. The thought of this has Thomas in full panic mode, but Robin calms him down.

Where is the diffraction? Are you a believer?

Ways to teach… Distance, Speed and Acceleration

Episode 20 (assuming we make it) will be all about ways to teach distance, speed and acceleration (or displacement, velocity and acceleration). How do you do it and what works best for you?

Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode. Please do leave a voice memo: Thomas thinks nobody loves him.

The music we use remains One legged equilibrist polka by Circus Homunculus.

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16. The Vacuum Cannon!

Thomas, Robin and Patrick Kaplo discuss the amazing vacuum cannon and how it can be used to make physics thrilling. The cannon is now available in the shop. Buy it and you’ll be supporting the podcast while you have a BLAST!
It is half term next week in the UK so it will be two weeks until episode 17.

Timestamps

  • Mars rover named for Rosalind Franklin @ 00:47
  • Introducing the Vacuum Cannon @ 1:20
  • Robin and Thomas test the cannon @ 4:43
  • A joyful enterprise @ 11:40
  • Safety considerations @ 13:14
  • Tips and tricks for firing it @ 14:46
  • Ways to calculate speed @ 17:06
  • Selling the cannon @ 23:52

Summary

Patrick Kaplo joins the team to talk about the brilliant Vacuum Cannon. This is a recognised piece of equipment, although Thomas and Robin had not heard of it. Thomas built one and tested it with spectacular results. All schools should have one! The cannon is actually covered in detail by CLEAPSS and they give full instructions (with links to where to buy parts) on how to make one (CLEAPSS login needed).

Thomas was so keen to spread the joy, he decided to sell the cannon in our shop and you can pick one up for £20 (including P&P but you need to enter the code BOOM at checkout). You can also support the podcast by purchasing a small upgrade that includes a £5 donation.

Patrick Kaplo modelling the t-shirt
Patrick Kaplo rocks the tptp look.

Ways to teach… Distance, Speed and Acceleration

Episode 20 (assuming we make it) will be all about ways to teach distance, speed and acceleration (or displacement, velocity and acceleration). How do you do it and what works best for you?

Please share ideas or successes – or indeed questions – on our Facebook Page: https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode. Please do leave a voice memo: Thomas thinks nobody loves him.

The music we use remains One legged equilibrist polka by Circus Homunculus.

Patrick’s theme tune is from Hail to the Chief Bluegrass Banjo by Tom Adams from BanjoNews.com under Fair Use.

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Making a Vacuum Cannon

The Tube

The tube does not need to be super strong (the tape will fail long before the tube), but it does need to be close in diameter to a table-tennis ball (40mm). The right tube is known as Imperial 1½ inch PVC, common in the USA but not so much in the UK. I collected it from Koi Logic for £5.05 a metre since delivery is quite expensive and it is not too far away. CLEAPSS suggest the plastic pipe shop where it is about the same cost but you get a longer length (so more expensive and a lot of waste).

1m of tube is fine, it is easy to transport and store. You can get tremendous speeds from a 1m tube. CLEAPSS recommend that you do not go longer than 1.5m. I chose 1m because above that, the delivery charges get silly.

The valve and its Hole

You need a way to connect the vacuum pump to the tube. Patrick Kaplo sent me a link to the hose elbow he used in the USA and CLEAPSS suggests a metal schrader valve that you just self tap (force in to the PVC) and glue in to the pipe. Their instructions here are a bit vague on the size of drill bit you need. A very unscientific poll of physics teacher friends suggested that they all had rubber hoses on their vacuum pumps so the elbow is much more sensible.

Being a bit of a perfectionist I thought that tapping it in to a tapered thread would allow for cheaper components, a better seal and for replacing components if needed. I found some cheap nylon fittings at Wreking Pneumatics, all they needed was a correctly threaded hole.

For pneumatics I learned you really should used tapered thread (BSPT) holes to get a good seal with no need for tape, glue or sealant. Tracy tools are helpful on the phone and sell reasonably priced tap, dies and drills. I wasn’t sure what would work best so bought a plug tap and the correct size drill (8.4mm for the ⅛” plug tap) for both ¼” and ⅛” tapered thread holes. The prototype has ¼” BSPT but I learned that the schrader valves suggested by CLEAPSS and potential vacuum gauges all use ⅛” BSPT so the ¼” tap I bought was redundant. (I actually bought another but it took so long to come in the post via amazon I gave up on it; Tracy Tools delivered within 24 hours of ordering.) Tapping PVC is a doddle compared to steel.

The Tape

*just* an overlap

The tape was the cheapest “three inch” (78mm wide) tape I could find on eBay, just bought in bulk. The prototype used “two inch” and worked, but barely covered the width of the tube (see photo).

The Balls

The balls are practise balls from eBay, bought in bulk. “Real” balls are much stiffer and about twice the mass. I bought 300. Softer balls expand a little in the tube I think, so possibly get more push, and being lighter can accelerate faster? This is worth investigating perhaps?

No Flanges 😥

Flanges make a great stand for the cannon and provide a good surface for the tape to adhere too. The best I could find was £8 a flange, but that would almost double the cost of the cannon. Robin and I tested the cannon with no flanges with very good results. My tech department whipped two up for free with no problem and you can make basic ones out of cardboard or 3D print them. There are many options. Our tube’s diameter was 48mm (Officially 48.26mm according to the Standard). This is a good opportunity for the school to personalise their cannon!

Adding a Pressure Gauge

I found pressure gauges on eBay for £7 including postage. They come with a ⅛” BSPT (taper) male and screw straight in to another ⅛” tapped hole. Just search for:
1/8″ BSPT pressure gauge.

If you make one, do let us know how you get on:

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Selling a Vacuum Cannon

We are selling Vacuum Cannons in the shop. I am setting it up with some trepidation: if nobody buys one I will be several tens of pounds out of pocket. If everyone buys one I will be unable to make them fast enough to keep up with demand. Of course, the most likely thing is somewhere in-between. Being part-time I can respond quite fast, and I can limit the number I have to make and dispatch by setting the stock levels in our shop software. And through the piss-poor planning you have come to expect, we are releasing them a day before I go away for a week over half-term. Oops.

The pay-off is that more people will get to play demonstrate with this fantastic toy piece of equipment. I had never heard of it, nor had Robin, but CLEAPSS are all over it so it must be pretty well known. When I tested the prototype in the kitchen I didn’t really think through the consequences of a ball travelling at several hundred miles an hour vs my kitchen wall. There was ball debris everywhere; I found one shard 5m away on a high window sill two weeks later.

I have set up stock of 2 in the shop but with unlimited back orders. Once I know what the demand is (or indeed if there is any!) I will start making and shipping them in batches. I intend to keep doing them at £20 until I lose the will to go through all the guff of making, packing and dispatching them. Then I will either give up or raise the price. So buy now to avoid disappointment.

Anyone with access to a vacuum pump can of course make their own. If that is your plan, you could use the CLEAPSS guidance I mentioned above. I also made my own “How To” notes which includes links to where I purchased things.

If you make one, please let us know how it goes.

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15.1 Extended Interview with Nicky Thomas about Diffraction

Full interview with Nicky Thomas about teaching diffraction (29 minutes). She covers how she teaches it in more detail as well as more context and thoughts about doing diffraction as a practical EPQ.

The music in this extra episode is Cantina Rag by Jackson F. Smith. It was the runner up in our “Which music shall we have for the podcast?” play off.

15. Water, Waves and Woodlice

Sea slugs use physics to move up to 90 km a day. Who’d have known? In the main body of the podcast Robin talks to Nicky Thomas about teaching diffraction. She has much to share so we released an extended interview podcast Finally woodlice can also assist in physics teaching by being a source of real distance/time data.

Timestamps

  • Our secret plans @ 00:30
  • Plea for people to share their ideas about how to teach distance, speed and acceleration @ 1:54
  • Physics in the News: Sea Cucumber escape strategy @ 2:55
  • Nicky Thomas on Diffraction @ 5:09
  • Biologist Sylvia and using Woodlice to teach Physics @ 19:07

Summary

Robin and Thomas are excited about their secret plans for the weekend that are related to the future “Ways to teach…” episode on distance, speed and acceleration. Thomas then tells Robin about escapologist sea slugs that use their deep knowledge of physics to move up to 90km a day. The main guest this week is teacher Nicky Thomas. Her favourite thing to teach is diffraction and she describes how she tries to make it a progressive subject through the key stages. Nicky told Robin how she explores diffraction with different age groups and give some context for how it is used in industry by Panalytical. Thomas from the future appears to tell the listener that the interview had to be cut hard, but you can hear the whole half hour on a special bonus podcast that has been released The last part of the podcast is an idea linked to distance, speed and acceleration: using woodlice as a source of real distance time information. This is described by an old colleague of Thomas’, Sylvia Gummery.

Ways to teach… Distance, Speed and Acceleration

Episode 20 (assuming we make it) will be all about ways to teach distance, speed and acceleration (or displacement, velocity and acceleration). How do you do it and what works best for you?

Please share ideas or successes on our Facebook Page – https://fb.me/physicstp .  You can also message us via our website contact form at the.physicsteachingpodcast.com, Twitter @physicstp, email using  the address given in the podcast (if we remember) or by leaving a voice memo using WhatsApp or Telegram to the phone number in our Twitter profile, +44 7898 814716 (don’t call the number, nobody will answer, just hold down the microphone icon and speak your message). Don’t forget to tell us your name because we may use your audio in a future episode. Please do leave a voice memo: Thomas thinks nobody loves him.

The music we use remains One legged equilibrist polka by Circus Homunculus.

Send Message
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