The Science of Juggling and Hula-hooping!

5 07 2012

Last week at the Museum, young boys and girls participated in our Secret Scientists camp.  On Tuesday, we had a field trip to Sky Candy, an aerial acrobatics company based here in Austin. At Sky Candy, two aerial artists, Danny and Winnie, told us about the science behind different parts of their work.

First, they talked about stretching and our bodies’ muscles.  Do you know the names of any muscles?  We talked about many different muscles and how stretching all of our muscles is important before any kind of exercise.

Here we stretched our triceps (the undersides of our arms).

Then, we talked about the science behind juggling. When you juggle, you are working with gravity.  When you throw the balls up into the air, you go against gravity.  Once the balls hit their peak, they no longer have any force against gravity and begin to fall with the force of gravity.

Trying to learn how to juggle!

After juggling with similar-sized balls, Danny, one of the aerial artists, asked if we thought that a larger ball would fall faster than a smaller one.  What do you think?

Danny with two different-sized juggling balls.

Because gravity works the same on every object, all objects fall at the same speed.  It’s only when an object has wind resistance that its speed may change.  This means that an open, flat piece of paper (which has a large surface that slows down its speed) falls slower than a bowling ball or a marble which fall at the same speed (because their shapes do not resist the force of their fall).

After juggling, Winnie talked to us about the hidden science behind hula-hoops.  When you hula-hoop, your body oscillates (moves from side to side).  This movement creates a force, which is called centripetal force, that acts upon the hoop.  Centripetal force is the force which carries an object (the hoop) on a curved path because of the force’s direction towards the center of the curved path. Thus, your hula-hoop rotates around you on a curved path because your body creates a force with its movement.

Here everyone took turns hula-hooping.

Who knew so much science was a part of aerial acrobats? Just by stretching and tossing a few balls in the air or playing with your hula-hoop at home, you can encounter scientific ideas about the muscles of your body, can see how gravity affects objects, and can create centripetal force.  Thanks to Winnie and Danny for teaching us all of this!!

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