Cover image for Vacuum bazookas, electric rainbow jelly, and 27 other Saturday science projects
Vacuum bazookas, electric rainbow jelly, and 27 other Saturday science projects
Downie, N. A. (Neil A.)
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 253 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Q164 .D69 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



How do you crack nuts with a piece of string? Reverse gravity? Cobble together a clock out of a coffee cup, a soda bottle, and some water? Use a vacuum cleaner and nineteenth-century railroad technology to fashion a makeshift bazooka that can launch paper projectiles? Create a rainbow in a block of Jello? This is a one-volume romp through a whole array of counterintuitive science experiments that require little more than common household items and a sense of curiosity. Prepare to have your surprise sensors on overload as Neil Downie stretches math, physics, and chemistry to do what they have never done before.

This book describes twenty-nine unusual but practical experiments, detailing how they are done and the math and physics behind them. It will delight both casual and inveterate tinkerers. Of varying levels of complexity, the experiments are grouped in sections covering a wide field of physics and the borders of chemistry, ranging from dynamic mechanics (''Kinetic Curiosities'') to electricity (''Antediluvian Electronics'') and combustion (''Infernal Inventions''). The chapters are titillatingly titled, from ''Twisted Sinews'' and ''Mole Radio'' to ''A Symphony of Siphons'' and ''Tornado Transistor.'' More-detailed explanations, along with simple mathematical models using high-school level math, are given in boxes accompanying each experiment.

Armchair scientists will welcome this edifying and entertaining alternative to idleness, not least for the buoyant prose, enriched by historical and literary anecdotes introducing each topic. With this book in hand, tinkerers, whether dabblers in science or devotees, students or teachers, need never again wonder how to impress friends, the judges at the science fair, and, not least, themselves.

Author Notes

Neil A. Downie has worked on a variety of engineering projects for the British Ministry of Defence and private industries in the UK. He is currently a scientist with Air Products and Chemicals at their labs in Blasingstoke near London.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Downie runs a weird-science club in England that, through the construction of Goldbergian gadgets, teaches kids the physical principles behind technology. In these recipes, he exhibits a playful attitude that disarms any hesitation about cannibalizing everyday stuff--radio-controlled toys, for example--for the quite basic gear that many of Downie's projects require. Most illustrate the physics of waves or mechanics, and for the hard-core gadgeteer, Downie appends to each project an explanation of the mathematics describing what's going on with, say, a rotating, ribless umbrella, but every project is built around inspiring delight and wonder. There is an upgrade of the classic cups-and-string telecom technology, which Downie calls the string radio. He illustrates the basic idea of modern smart-bomb warfare in the shape of a (perfectly safe) guided carpet missile, and throughout he sprinkles a number of amusingly useless labor-saving devices: Anybody need a string-driven nutcracker? A fertile and funny idea-book for the Erector set crowd. --Gilbert Taylor

Table of Contents

Contents in Detailp. vii
Project Ratingsp. xi
Prefacep. xiii
Kinetic Curiosities
1 Hovering Ringsp. 3
2 Dynabrollyp. 14
3 Gravity Reversalp. 21
4 Maypole Drillp. 28
5 Rotaropep. 33
Strong String Things
6 String Nutcrackerp. 45
7 Twisted Sinewsp. 51
Strong Nothing
8 Vacuum Musclesp. 61
9 Vacuum Bazookap. 70
Sounds Peculiar
10 String Radiop. 83
11 Mole Radiop. 93
12 Bat Dopplerp. 102
Transmissions With Omissions
13 Toothless Gearwheelsp. 113
14 Flying Pulleysp. 121
Clocks Without Cuckoos Or Quartz
15 The Crank and the Pendulump. 127
16 A Symphony of Siphonsp. 134
17 Bernoulli's Clockp. 142
Curious Conveyances
18 Dougall or U'brocraftp. 151
19 Follow That Sunbeamp. 157
20 Duoheliconp. 167
21 Fishy Boatp. 174
22 Rotarudderp. 182
23 Cable Yachtp. 190
Antediluvian Electronics
24 Beard Amplifierp. 199
25 Tornado Transistorp. 207
Electric Water
26 Meltdown Alarmp. 215
27 Electric Rainbow jellyp. 222
Infernal Inventions
28 Binary Matchp. 229
29 Ultimate Bunsen Burnerp. 234
Useful Materials and CompOnentsp. 241
A Reminder about Unitsp. 245
Bibliographyp. 247
Indexp. 251