Parachutes

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Updated on Feb 08, 2012

Grade Level: 1st - 4th; Type: Physics/Aerodynamics

Objective:

To determine if the size of the parachute will change the rate at which an object falls.

Research Questions

  • How does a parachute work to slow the force of gravity?
  • Do larger parachutes slow the force of gravity more than smaller parachutes?

A parachute is a device that creates air resistance or drag which pushes against gravity slowing down the fall of a person or object. The drag force from the parachute is less than the force of gravity.

Materials:

  • 4 identical handkerchiefs
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • 5 identical fishing weights
  • string
  • balcony, playground platform, ladder, or other secure surface about 10 feet from the
  • ground
  • paper
  • pencil

Experimental Procedure

  1. Gather the necessary materials.
  2. Cut three of the handkerchiefs to make four different-sized parachutes. Measure and cut 1 inch from the perimeter of one handkerchief, 2 inches from the second handkerchief, and 3 inches from the third handkerchief.
  3. Cut 16 12-inch lengths of string.
  4. Tie one piece of string to each corner of each of the handkerchiefs. Then tie the four strings on each handkerchief to one of the weights.
  5. Compare the dropping rates of the each of the four parachutes to the weight alone. To do this, take one parachute and the weight and drop them at the same time and from the same height. Record the results.
  6. Repeat step 5 with each of the parachutes and the weight along and each of the parachutes to each other. Collect the data for each drop.
  7. Analyze the data and draw a conclusion.

Terms/Concepts: drag: a force that causes an air resistance gravity: a force that draws everything toward the center of the earth air resistance: air movement that slows down forward movement; A parachute enables a person or object to fall from an airplane to the ground at a safe speed. Gravity is a force that pulls everything to the ground. Air resistance or drag is a force that keeps something from being pulled to the ground or slows the speed of something being pulled to the ground.

References:

“Skydiving” at http://www.physicsclassroom.com/mmedia/newtlaws/sd.cfm “Parachute Science – Physics of Parachutes” at http://www.buzzle.com/articles/parachute-science-physics-of-parachutes.html “The History of the Invention of the Parachute” at http://www.juliantrubin.com/bigten/davinciparachute.html “Parachute Science” at http://mysearch.ph/parachuting/parachute-science.htm

Nancy Rogers Bosse has been involved in education for over forty years - first as a student, then as a teacher, and currently as a curriculum developer. For the last fifteen years she has combined a career in freelance curriculum development with parenthood - another important facet of education and probably the most challenging. Nancy lives in Henderson, Nevada with husband and their three teenagers.

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