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How to make a Pop Pop boat

You will need:

 
  • 1 x 600 mL plastic soft drink bottle, cut in half length ways using scissors.
  • 1 tealight candle.
  • Matches or cigarette light.
  • 25 cm of 6 mm copper tubing.
  • BBQ Firelighter. We've found this to be far more reliable than the candle powered versions.
  • Tub of water.
  • Hacksaw to cut the tubing to size and a bench vice to hold the tubing safely.
  • A drill press with 3.5 mm drill bit to clean out the holes.
  • 2 x hand pliers to bend the copper tube into shape.
  • Safety goggles and adult supervision! 

Instructions

 
  1. Cut your soft drink bottle in half length ways.
     
  2. Fit your copper tube in the bench vice and use a hack saw to cut a length of 6mm copper tubing to a 25cm length. The ends of the copper will need a small drill bit to clean out the metal burrs that can cover the opening of the tubing (we used a drill press for safety).
     
  3. Use the pliers to bend the copper pipe into the shape as shown below. 

    pop pop boat setup 1
     
  4. Seperate the tealight candle from it's metal holder and arrange the materials in the boat as shown below. The candle acts as a counter weight for the copper tubing at the back of the boat.

    pop pop boat setup 2
     
  5. Cut notches in the bottle so that the tubing can rest in the back of the boat.

    pop pop boat experiment
     
  6. Add the firelighter the metal container and you've set the boat up!

    pop pop boat setup 3
     
  7. Now put in in some water, light the firelighter and watch it go! You may need to pre-fill the tubing with water to speed the process up... try filling the tube and then pouring most of the water out so the inside of the tube is damp.
     
  8. If there are balance issues you can sort this out with additional weights (use metal nuts if needed). Make sure that the tubing is bent so that it can reach the surface of the water. You may need to make slight adjustments to this design but in essence this is a robust science experiment that kids will love to build. Enjoy!

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The above pop pop boat is from a science kit you can buy but you can easily make yourself using some materials found at home and at the local hardware store. See the instructions on this page for more details!
 
Why does it work?

Heat expands water. The firelighter flame heats the water inside the tubing which then pushes out of the tubes as a tiny bit of steam and heated water, producing a small amount of force to send the boat forwards. This shows that the idea that objects will move in the opposite direction to a pushing force...think Newton's 3rd Law of Motion which states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The expelled water out of the tubing creates a temporary low pressure area within the tubing coil. Any remaining steam inside the coiled tube condenses back into liquid water, further reducing the pressure. The water from the tub is pushed into the copper tubing by the surrounding air pressure... which is then be heated and the cycle repeats!
 
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