Air Pressure Can Crusher – Science Experiment

Air Pressure Can Crusher - Aluminum Can Crusher Science Experiment 

There are a lot of different ways to crush an ordinary soda can. You can be a super can crusher and crush that empty aluminum can with your foot, in your hands or on your head. However, nothing compares to the fun you’ll have performing this soda can implosion experiment from Steve Spangler Science. Just wait until the can goes “POP.” Then you’ll see who has nerves of steel! Our soda can crusher experiment is not for the faint of heart (it’s also not for kids to perform alone — be sure to enlist the help of a responsible adult). 

Experiment Materials

  • Empty soda cans (search the recycling bin or start drinking!)
  • Electric Stove or hot plate
  • Cooking tongs
  • Gloves
  • Bowl
  • Cold water

Experiment

1

Start by rinsing out the soda cans to remove any leftover soda goo.

2

Fill the bowl with cold water (the colder the better).

3

Add 1 generous tablespoon of water to the empty soda can (just enough to cover the bottom of the can).

4

Place the can directly on the burner of the stove while it is in the “OFF” position. It’s time for that adult to turn on the burner to heat the water. Soon you’ll hear the bubbling sound of the water boiling and you’ll see the water vapor rising out from the can. Continue heating the can for one more minute.

5

It’s important to think through this next part before you do it. Here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to use the tongs to lift the can off the burner, turn it upside down, and plunge the mouth of the can down into the bowl of water. Get a good grip on the can near its bottom with the tongs, and hold the tongs so that your hand is in the palm up position. Using one swift motion, lift the can off the burner, turn it upside down, and plunge it into the cold water. Don’t hesitate . . . just do it!

6

Wow, and you thought that you had nerves of steel. The can literally imploded. Before you jump ahead to the explanation, stop to ponder how this works. What force is great enough to crush the can?

7

Don’t just sit there . . . get back to that stove and do it again! Each time you repeat the experiment, carefully observe what is happening in order to try to figure out what’s going on.

How Does It Work

Here’s the real scoop on the science behind the imploding can. Before heating, the can is filled with water and air. By boiling the water, the water changes states — from a liquid to a gas. This gas is called water vapor. The water vapor pushes the air that was originally inside the can out into the atmosphere. When the can is turned upside down and placed in the water, the mouth of the can forms an airtight seal against the surface of the water in the bowl. In just a split second, all of the water vapor that pushed the air out of the can and filled up the inside of the can turns into only a drop or two of liquid, which takes up much less space. This small amount of condensed water cannot exert much pressure on the inside walls of the can — and none of the outside air can get back into the can. The result? The pressure of the air pushing from the outside of the can is great enough to crush it! Amazing, right? 

The Science of Implosion; The Principle of Equilibrium

The sudden collapsing of an object toward its center is called an “implosion.” Nature wants things to be in a state of equilibrium (a fancy word for balance). To cause the internal pressure of the can to balance with the can’s external pressure, the can implodes. That’s right — air pressure is super powerful!

One more thing: You probably noticed that the can was filled with water after it imploded. This is a great illustration of how air pressure is pushing all around us. Specifically, the outside air pressure was pushing downward on the surface of the water. Since the air pressure inside the aluminum can was less than the pressure outside the can, water from the bowl was literally pushed up and into the can.

Outside Air Pressure and Drinking from a Straw

This action is similar to what happens when you drink from a straw. Although we say we are “sucking” liquid up through the straw, we really aren’t. To put it simply, science doesn’t suck — rather, it just pushes and pulls. Outside air pressure is pushing down on the surface of the liquid. When you reduce the pressure in your mouth (that sucking action), the outside pressure is greater than the pressure inside your mouth. For that reason, the liquid shoots up through the straw and into your mouth. The same thing is true with the can in our can crushing air pressure experiment. The outside air pressure pushing downward on the surface of the water is greater than the force inside the can and the water gets pushed up into the can.

Safety Information

SAFETY INFORMATION

WARNING! IMPORTANT SAFETY RULES

This can crushing experiment requires the use of a burner on a stove to heat some water. Children should not perform this experiment without responsible adult supervision. Safety goggles and protective eyewear are good ideas, too — you don’t want to get an injury from any flying crushed soda cans. (Adults shouldn’t perform this experiment either — unless a really smart kid is watching over their shoulder!) At Steve Spangler Science, we always practice safe science. 

Check out the video from the Ellen Show

Crushing soda cans is fun, but I invited some people to help me take this experiment to a whole new level. In place of a soda can, we used a steel 55-gallon drum, a propane camping stove, and a kid’s swimming pool filled with ice water.  Ellen Show

Additional videos with Steve on Ellen

Additional Ellen Videos

Air Pressure Experiments, Can Crushing Experiments and More 

If you enjoyed this crushed soda can experiment, you’ll really get a kick out of our other at-home science experiments, including other fun air pressure experiments. Using everyday items in your home, you can create hands-on learning experiments with that signature Steve Spangler Science WOW factor! Whether you’re looking for science fair experiment ideas or simply an after-school activity or a STEM club activity that will engage and teach kids about scientific principles they can understand, you’ve come to the right place. Visit our online science experiment library for kids, check out our all-in-one science kits or pick up some lab supplies to create a learning environment in your home or classroom that kids will be talking about for years! Best of all, Steve Spangler Science experiments (as well as this super-cool air pressure experiment) will get oohs and ahhhs from kids of all ages — even from grownups, too! 

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