What kid doesn’t like to build a paper airplane and send it flying? The very nature of flying things has captured the imaginations of inventors everywhere. My son literally just ran down the stairs with a Lego spaceship he just created. And ten minutes later my daughter came down with a Lego flying toilet. Seriously. My kids.
Anyway, this month we’ll be creating a cool flipping paper structure that is a cross between a paper airplane and a spinny maple leaf helicopter seed. My own children then used this idea to make a science fair project. I will share out their results of that at the end of the article.
Printer paper (or other types for further investigations), and a pair of scissors. That’s it!
Cut a strip of paper lengthwise from a piece of printer paper. It should be about one inch by 11 inches.
Make two snips, one on either end of the strip
Loop the paper over to then link those two snips together to make it look like a fish or a blimp
Stand on top of a chair or someplace high and drop the paper
Watch it spin to the ground! (You may need to determine which is the best way to drop your spinner to get best results)
Bernoulli’s Principle. The guiding explanation why things fly, or have “lift.” The curved shape of wings or small pieces of paper can alter the flow of air around it and cause it to move in different directions. When you craft the wings of this piece of paper this way, the force of lift continually acts upon it to cause it to spin. You’ll even notice it doesn’t spin and fall straight down, it may fall outward or sometimes in big loops. The way you construct this will affect the way it falls.
My kids took this idea and made their school science fair project around it. I thought it would be a fun and easy thing for them to explore and test. We looked up Bernoulli’s Principle and from there they decided to adjust the length of the spinner’s “tail” section, thus changing the curvature of it. They thought if there was more curve, Bernoulli’s Principle would thus support more lift and more spinning. They constructed several different spinners, dropped them many times, and timed the fall, as well as making other observations. What did they learn? Well, that’s for you to verify!
What else could you test/change? The different type of paper? Different lengths and widths of paper? Remember to only change one thing at a time, otherwise you might not know what you are testing with so many variables.
I hope you enjoyed this simple experiment. If you have more questions about this, specifically around the science fair aspect of this experiment, contact the author.
Steve Davala is a high school chemistry and physics teacher who likes to write and work with Photoshop. He’s got two kids of his own and subjects them to these science activities as guinea pigs.