The use of steam to power machinery began in about 1700 and gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, according to the Museum of American Heritage. Steam engines--in factories, locomotives, boats and even early cars--contributed mightily to the economic growth of the United States. A steamboat science project, simple to construct, will demonstrate the basics of steam power. The project described here can be completed by a child, with adult assistance and supervision.
- Metal tube (closed on one end)
- 2 coat hangers
- Wine cork
- 2 small candles in metal containers
- Balsa wood
Fit the cork into the open end of the metal tube. It should fit snugly, but if it does not, shave or file it down with a small knife or potato peeler. Once the cork is in, poke a hole all the way through the center of the cork, from top to bottom.
Cut your balsa wood into the shape of a boat, roughly 6 inches by 8 inches. From the center line at one end, cut two diagonals to form the bow of the boat.
Unravel your two coat hangers. Wrap one coat hanger around the tube, about 1 inch from the end. Wrap the other hanger around the tube, 1 inch from the other end, in the opposite direction. Make sure you have plenty of wire left over, extending from opposite sides of the tube.
Attach the left over wire to the the top of your balsa wood boat in such a way that your metal tube is suspended and centered several inches above the boat. The construction should resemble the basic outline of a roof, with the balsa wood as the base and the two wires acting as beams, leaning inward, to support the metal tube running nearly the length of the boat. Make sure the cork is on the stern side of the boat.
Place the two small candles underneath the metal tube, near the interior of the boat, roughly an inch apart from each other. Use tape underneath your candles to keep them attached firmly in place. Tape several washers to each end of the boat to provide added stability.
Remove the cork and fill the tube three-quarters full with hot water. Place the cork back into the tube, place the boat into a tub of water, and light the candles. The water should begin to heat and convert to steam, which will force it's way out of the hole in the cork, propelling the boat forward.
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About the Author
Charlie Watkins is a humorist and musician from Austin, Texas, currently living in Los Angeles. Since 2000, his writing has appeared in "Creative Loafing Savannah," "Savannah Connect" and a variety of other periodicals across the southern United States. He holds a B.A. in English writing from Saint Edward's University. His comedy can be heard on Itunes and seen on Comedy Central.
steamboat image by Tammy Mobley from Fotolia.com