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Author: Janice VanCleave

So You Want to Do a Project about Matter!

Let's Explore


To demonstrate that matter takes up space.


  • nail
  • empty 16-ounce (480-mL) plastic soda bottle with cap
  • masking tape
  • tap water
  • empty soda can with pull tab
  • adult helper


  1. Ask an adult to use the nail to make a small hole in the side of the plastic bottle about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the bottom.
  2. Place a piece of tape over the hole in the bottle.
  3. Fill the bottle with water and close it with the cap.
  4. Stand the bottle on a counter next to a sink so that the hole in the bottle faces the sink.
  5. Remove the tape from over the hole in the bottle and observe any flow of water out the hole.
  6. Remove the cap from the bottle and again observe any flow of water out the hole.
  7. Make sure the tab is completely pulled off the soda can, then fill the can with water.
  8. Hold the can over the sink. Tilt the can and observe any flow of water out of the can.


The water does not flow out of the bottle when the cap is on. The water does flow out of the bottle when the cap is taken off. The water also flows out of the opening in the can.



Water and air are fluids, which means they flow. Fluids are forms of matter. Because all matter takes up space, water cannot flow out of a bottle or can unless air flows in and takes its place. When the bottle was closed, no air could move into the bottle, so no water could leave. The water covering the hole in the bottle formed a skinlike film over the hole, which prevented the air from moving into the bottle. When the bottle was opened, air moved into the top and water moved out the hole. The hole in the open can is big enough to allow the liquid to flow out the bottom part of the hole while air is flowing in at the top of the hole.

For Further Investigation

Would a smaller hole let the soda out of the can? A project question might be, How does the size of the opening in a soda can affect its pouring ability?

Clues for Your Investigation

  1. Repeat the experiment, using three empty soda cans of the same brand. Use tape and a marker to lable the cans "A," "B," and "C."
  2. Use paper towels to dry the tops of cans B and C. Then use tape to cover one-third of the opening of can B and two-thirds of the opening of can C. Place the tape in the same direction across the two cans.
  3. To compare the sizes of the openings in the cans, calculate the area of each opening. Cut a circle from graph paper to fit within the top ridge of the can. With a pencil, mark back and forth on the area of the paper that covers the opening in the can to make a pattern of the opening. Use a permanent marker to trace around the edge of the pattern. Count the squares on the paper within the outline. Whole squares or those that are more than half will each be counted as one square. Record this as the area of the opening.
  4. To compare the amount of water that flows from each opening, tilt each can the same amount and measure the time it takes for all the water to pour out of the can. Test each can four times. Record the results in a Pouring Time Data table like the one shown. NOTE: The number of squares for your can may differ /rom those shown in the sample table.
  5. Using the pouring time data, prepare a bar graph comparing the pouring times of the cans. Take photographs of the openings to use on a legend showing the area (number of squares) of each opening. You may wish to display photographs of the water being poured out of each can.


References and Project Books

Doherty, Paul, and Don Rathjen. The Cool Hot Rod and Other Electrifying Experiments on Energy and Matter. New York: Wiley, 1991.

J ones, Mary, and Geoff Jones. Physics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Melton, Lisa Taylor, and Eric Landizinsky. 50 Nifty Science Experiments. Chicago: Lowell House, 1992.

Nye, Bill. Bill Nye the Science Guy's Big Blast of Science. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993.

Potter, Jean. Science in Seconds with Toys. New York: Wiley, 1998.

VanCleave, Janice.]anice VanCleave's Physics for Every Kid. New York: Wiley, 1991.

Williams, Brian. Science and Technology. New York: Kingfisher Books, 1993.

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