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Barrel implodes, knowledge expands

 
 

A dramatic science experiment generated excitement at Tallulah Falls School on Aug. 30 when sixth-grade science teacher Doug Vermilya staged a demonstration causing a steel barrel to implode.

According to Vermilya, the experiment illustrates that the atmosphere exerts incredible force in our lives.

“The demonstration is pretty simple,” he said. “We use a 55-gallon drum with a little water in it. The barrel is heated and the water converted into steam. The drum is then sealed and ice is deposited on top of the barrel to speed up the condensation process. When the steam converts back to a liquid, a vacuum is created inside the barrel and the weight of the atmosphere crushes the barrel.”

Students calculated the total surface area of the barrel in square inches and mathematically determined more than 30,000 pounds of air pressure would squeeze the barrel once the vacuum was produced.

“Students are always amazed by the realization that something that is invisible and seems insignificant is actually incredibly powerful and impacts all aspects of their life,” Vermilya added. “What happens to your ears when you dive to the deep part of the swimming pool? Your ears hurt because of water pressure, the weight of the water. If you asked fish about water pressure they would look at you funny. Fish live in the water and don’t think about the effects of the water. We live at the bottom of an ocean of air and just like fish, we don’t recognize the effects of the ‘ocean’ of air we are in.”