Soda Can Crusher Lab

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this experiment, we'll be learning about how pressure changes during phase changes. By the time you're done, you'll be able to describe how a phase change from gas to liquid can generate a force great enough to crush a can.

Introduction

Goal: To understand the relationship between temperature and pressure
Age: Middle school and up
Safety concerns: We will be using a hot plate. Always wear oven mitts and never directly touch objects that were on the hot plate. Get an adult to assist you.
Time: 20 minutes

Picture drinking a cool soda on a hot day. When your can is empty, you crush it with your hand and toss it in the recycling. Although it was pretty clear your hand was crushing the can, there are other ways to generate this force that we can't see. Today, we're going to be using the force generated by changes in pressure to crush a can. Pressure is the force applied over an area. So if pressure gets bigger but the area of the object stays the same, the force increases also.

Before you get started, think about what could increase or decrease the pressure around the can to make it collapse. How might temperature affect pressure? Does pressure increase or decrease when something gets hotter?

Materials

  • Hot plate
  • 1 empty soda can
  • About 2 cups cold water
  • Tongs and oven mitts
  • A bowl that has a diameter greater than the diameter of the can

Steps

1. First, rinse out the soda from your can. Then put about 1 tablespoon of water inside it.

2. Put the 2 cups of water in the bowl and place the bowl in the fridge for about 10 minutes before starting. The colder the water, the better.

Safety tip!! Make sure to wear oven mitts while heating the can and never touch the hot plate or hot objects directly. Get an adult to help you with this step.

3. Next, turn on the hot plate. Place your can on top of the hot plate and heat it until steam starts to emerge from the can. Continue heating for one additional minute after you see the steam.

Safety tip!! Do not touch the can with your bare hands. Use the tongs for this portion of the experiment and wear oven mitts.

4. Next, pick up the can at the base using the tongs. You are going to have to turn the can upside down and quickly submerge the top of the can in the cold water. The can should change shape here, so get a good grip on it with the tongs.

Troubleshooting

If you're not seeing the dramatic affect you hoped for, try using ice cold water. Place some ice cubes in a bowl while your water is in the fridge and then remove them before starting the experiment. Make sure your cold water doesn't heat up while you are setting up the rest of your experiment.

Discussion Questions

What happened when you submerged the can in cold water?

What happened to the size of the can when it was hot versus cold? When did it have a greater pressure?

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