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Physics in Action: Barrel Crunch


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About this Lesson

  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 4:30
  • Media: Video/mp4
  • Use: Watch Online & Download
  • Access Period: Unrestricted
  • Download: MP4 (iPod compatible)
  • Size: 48 MB
  • Posted: 07/01/2009

This lesson is part of the following series:

Physics (147 lessons, $198.00)
Physics: Fluids (13 lessons, $13.86)
Physics: Fluid Statics (9 lessons, $6.93)

This lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Physics I. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at The full course covers kinematics, dynamics, energy, momentum, the physics of extended objects, gravity, fluids, relativity, oscillatory motion, waves, and more. The course features two renowned professors: Steven Pollock, an associate professor of Physics at he University of Colorado at Boulder and Ephraim Fischbach, a professor of physics at Purdue University.

Steven Pollock earned a Bachelor of Science in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Prof. Pollock wears two research hats: he studies theoretical nuclear physics, and does physics education research. Currently, his research activities focus on questions of replication and sustainability of reformed teaching techniques in (very) large introductory courses. He received an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 1994 and a Boulder Faculty Assembly (CU campus-wide) Teaching Excellence Award in 1998. He is the author of two Teaching Company video courses: “Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: a Tour of the Microcosmos” and “The Great Ideas of Classical Physics”. Prof. Pollock regularly gives public presentations in which he brings physics alive at conferences, seminars, colloquia, and for community audiences.

Ephraim Fischbach earned a B.A. in physics from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. In Thinkwell Physics I, he delivers the "Physics in Action" video lectures and demonstrates numerous laboratory techniques and real-world applications. As part of his mission to encourage an interest in physics wherever he goes, Prof. Fischbach coordinates Physics on the Road, an Outreach/Funfest program. He is the author or coauthor of more than 180 publications including a recent book, “The Search for Non-Newtonian Gravity”, and was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2001. He also serves as a referee for a number of journals including “Physical Review” and “Physical Review Letters”.

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When you hear about the price of a barrel of oil, this is the kind of barrel they're talking about except we've painted this barrel yellow and red to make it look more colorful. What we've done is put just a little bit of water in the bottom of this barrel. We've connected this barrel to a line of gas. There's a heating element at the bottom and the gas is heating up this small amount of water to produce a lot of steam. So inside this barrel is mostly empty space, a lot of steam and a little bit of water. Why am I doing all of this? Stay tuned. I'll be back in a few minutes and we'll see what happens.
So what happened over here? Well, as I explained before, we have this barrel. We put a little bit of water in it. We heated up the water to create steam, and the steam drove out all the air that was inside. Now, when you saw Roger in the orange suit, what he was doing was capping off this barrel with two little caps, and that made sure that whatever was inside, stayed inside, and no air from the outside got in.
Then what Roger did was very, very important. He took a tank containing liquid nitrogen, which is most of the component of air, and very, very, very cold--liquid nitrogen is extremely cold--and he poured the liquid nitrogen on top of this tank to ensure that this tank cooled down very, very fast. Now, think for a minute. What would happen if you cooled down a tank, which had a lot of steam inside? Well, all the steam is condensed, but since mostly what was inside was just steam anyway, what you're left with is almost nothing. There is almost no air in there, and a very small amount of water vapor, and mostly a vacuum. So what he created in the end was a partial vacuum. Now we had a lot of pressure outside on this drum and very little pressure inside counterbalancing it. What we saw then was that the barrel, as strong as it looks, was not sufficiently strong to withstand the atmospheric pressure outside and it went "crunch."
You can do this demonstration at home yourself without a 55-gallon drum. Just take a soda pop can, empty it out, fill it with a little bit of water, put it over a stove, drive the steam out. And just take that can, invert it upside down in a bowl of water, and you'll see it will go "crunch" as well. That's an easy to do mini-demonstration of what we've seen over here, and you don't need liquid nitrogen to do it.
Fluid Statics
Physics in Action: Barrel Crunch Page [1 of 1]

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