Thought experiments can be extremely powerful; after all, pretty much everything that [Einstein] came up with was based on thought experiments. But when a thought experiment turns into a real experiment, that’s when things can get really interesting, and where unexpected insights crop up.
Take [AlphaPhoenix]’s simple question: “Are solid objects really solid?” On the face of it, this seems like a silly and trivial question, but the thought experiment he presents reveals more. He posits that pushing on one end of a solid metal rod a meter or so in length will result in motion at the other end of the rod pretty much instantly. But what if we scale that rod up considerably — say, to one light-second in length. Is a displacement at one end of the rob instantly apparent at the other end? It’s a bit of a mind-boggler.
To answer the question, [AlphaPhoneix] set up a simple experiment with the aforementioned steel rod — the shorter one, of course. The test setup was pretty clever: a piezoelectric sensor at one end of the bar, and a hammer wired to a battery at the other end, to sense when the hammer made contact with the bar. Both sensors were connected to an oscilloscope to set up to capture the pulses and measure the time. It turned out that the test setup was quite a challenge to get right, and troubleshooting the rig took him down a rabbit hole that was just as interesting as answering the original question. We won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say we were pleased that our first instinct turned out to be correct, even if for the wrong reasons.
If you haven’t checked out [AlphaPhoenix] yet, you really should. With a doctorate in material science, he’s got an interesting outlook on things, like calculating pi using raindrops or keeping the “ultra” in ultra-high vacuum. Continue reading “Simple Setup Answers Complex Question On The Physics Of Solids” →
Have you ever sat down and thought “I wonder if a trebuchet could launch a projectile at supersonic speeds?” Neither have we. That’s what separates [David Eade] from the rest of us. He didn’t just ask the question, he answered it! And he documented the entire build in a YouTube video which you can see below the break.
The trebuchet is a type of catapult that was popular for use as a siege engine before gunpowder became a thing. Trebuchets use a long arm to throw projectiles farther than traditional catapults. The focus has typically been on increasing throwing distance for the size of the projectile, or vice versa. But of course you’re here to read about the other thing that trebuchets can be used for: speed.
How fast is fast? How about a whip-cracking, sonic-booming speed in excess of 450 meters per second! How’d he do it? Mostly wood and rubber with some metal bits thrown in for safety’s sake. [David]’s video explains in full all of the engineering that went into his trebuchet, and it’s a lot less than you’d think. There’s a very satisfying montage of full power trebuchet launches that make it audibly clear that the projectile being thrown is going well past the speed of sound, with a report quite similar to that of a small rifle.
[David]’s impressive project and presentation makes it clear that all one has to do to build a supersonic trebuchet is to try. Just be careful, and watch where you shoot that thing before you put somebody’s eye out, ok?
Speaking of things that can go unexpectedly fast, check out these unpowered RC gliders that approach the speed of sound just feet off the ground. And thanks to [Keith] for the awesome Tip!
Continue reading “Supersonic Projectile Exceeds Engineers Dreams: The Supersonic Trebuchet” →
Despite what you may have heard elsewhere, science isn’t just reading [Neil deGrasse Tyson]’s Twitter account or an epistemology predicated on the non-existence of god. No, science requires much more work watching Cosmos, as evidenced by [Ast]’s adventures in analyzing data to measure the speed of sound with a microcontroller.
After [Ast] built a time to digital converter – basically an oversized stopwatch with microsecond resolution – he needed a project to show off what his TDC could do. The speed of sound seemed like a reasonable thing to measure, so [Ast] connected a pair of microphones and amplifiers to his gigantic stopwatch. After separating the microphones by a measured distance; [Ast] clapped his hands, recorded the time of flight for the sound between the two microphones, and repeated the test.
When the testing was finished, [Ast] had a set of data that recorded the time it took the sound of a hand clap to travel between each microphone. A simple linear regression (with some unit conversions), showed the speed of sound to be 345 +/- 25 meters per second, a 7% margin of error.
A 7% margin of error isn’t great, so [Ast] decided to bring out Numpy to analyze the data. In the first analysis, each data point was treated with equal weight, meaning an outlier in the data will create huge errors. By calculating the standard deviation of each distance measurement the error is reduced and the speed of sound becomes 331 +/- 14 m/s.
This result was better, but there were still a few extraneous data points. [Ast] chalked these up to echos and room vibrations and after careful consideration, threw these data points out. The final result? 343 +/- 9 meters per second, or an error of 2.6%.
A lot of work for something you can just look up on Wikipedia? Yeah, but that’s not science, is it?