4.6 based on 37 ratings

Updated on Jan 18, 2013


Environmental Science

Grade Level


Difficulty Level




Project Time Frame

4-8 weeks


This project examines the nature of whirlpools, tornadoes, and maybe even gravity.

Project Goals
  • To study the motion of matter in a vortex.
  • To discover uses for vortex energy.
  • To further the understanding of planetary motion and gravitational force.

Materials and Equipment

  • Computer with internet access
  • Color printer
  • Digital camera
  • Laser pointer
  • Plastic bottles
  • Water
  • Motorized spinning device (such as a tornado tube connector toy)
  • Typical office/craft supplies (such as paper, pens & poster-board)


A vortex is defined as that downward swirling motion regularly observed in nature, often during volatile environmental conditions. A vortex is manifested in different forms, such as tornadoes, whirlpools, an airplane’s wake turbulence, or a flushing toilet. The circular motion of a vortex holds a lot of energy. This project explores practical applications for the energy contained in a vortex, and (if you’re feeling ambitious) explains gravitational force in terms of a vortex.

Research Questions
  • Where do vortices occur in nature?
  • What causes a vortex to occur?
  • How is a vortex demonstrated under controlled conditions?
  • What are some uses for the energy contained in a vortex?
  • What is the relationship between a vortex and gravitational force?
Terms and Concepts to Start Background Research
  • Maelstrom
  • Vortex
  • Gravitational force

Experimental Procedure

  1. Research related materials (see bibliography below)
  2. Search, print out, and label examples of the vortex as it occurs in nature.
  3. Create your own vortex, using the medium of your choice (water, lasers, graphic design, etc.)
  4. Photograph your vortex.
  5. Develop your own theory about vortices, or a new practical use for their energy.
  6. Devise an experiment to test your new idea.
  7. Interpret your findings in a detailed report.
  8. Include striking vortex images in your science fair display.


  1. Instructables "Laser Vortex"
  2. Steve Spangler Science "Make a tornado in a bottle"
  3. Wikipedia topic: “Vortex
Judee Shipman is a Bay Area Educational Consultant and professional writer of quality educational materials.  Her recent writing credits include Top50States.com (a popular and entertaining website about states), and a book called The Portable Chess Coach (Cardoza, 2006), currently available in stores.

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