Popsicle Stick Chain Reaction

Weave popsicle sticks together to build potential energy before releasing them in a flurry of kinetic energy.

Popsicle sticks are great for holding frozen treats and reading the occasional joke off of, but did you know they’re excellent for demonstrating potential and kinetic energy? It’s true! If you weave popsicle sticks together just right, you can create a chain reaction that will create a dazzling display of flying popsicle sticks!

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Experiment Materials

Experiment Videos

Experiment

1

Start off with any two popsicle sticks. Lay them in an X-shape on a hard, flat surface that has a lot of stand-up working room. (Tables and counter tops are best. You can graduate to the floor later.

2

Place an end of a third popsicle stick under the upper end of the stick on the bottom of the “X.” The third popsicle stick then goes over the stick on top of the “X.” Make sure to keep pressure on the center of the “X” as you work. That’s why you need a helper or a strong clamp.

3

Repeat Step 2 with a fourth popsicle stick but this time, place it under the open end of the bottom stick and over the third stick. The second and the fourth popsicle stick are now parallel to each other. Potential energy is building already and you can probably feel it. Keep that pressure on. The first “X” is now locked in place unless your helper (or clamp) lets go.

4

Continue adding popsicle sticks in this fashion until you have about 10-15 in a chain. Just remember it’s a simple over-then-under that holds it all together and builds up energy.

5

Once you’ve built the chain to your heart’s content, let go of the unclamped end. The popsicle sticks explode down the line in a colorful chain reaction.

How Does It Work

The key to the popsicle stick chain-reaction comes from potential (or stored) energy in the over/under weaving and kinetic (or motion) energy in the release. As you weave the popsicle sticks together, you’re gradually and continually building potential energy in the popsicle sticks (or the system). Each popsicle stick is slightly bent over a stick on one end and held under a stick on the other. This twisting and bending creates lots of potential energy in the wood fibers because it’s not a normal position. They want to return to a normal position and lose the added energy, but they can’t. When you have the chain length you want, you let go. All of the potential energy is converted down the line in a chain-reaction of kinetic energy!

Take It Further

Now that you have mastered how to weave popsicle sticks together to build potential energy and have released them in a flurry of kinetic energy, it is time to see just how long of a chain you can build. Keep practicing this experiment. How long of a chain can you build? Could you build a chain that spans the entire length of your kitchen? Give it a try.