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The pulley analogy does not work for every siphon
Gorazd Planinˇiˇ 1 and Josip Sliˇko2 sc s
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia Benem´ rita Universidad Aut´ noma de Puebla, Mexico e o
Abstract How do siphons work? Some see atmospheric pressure, explicitly or implicitly, as a crucial factor in siphon action. Others explain that a siphon works due to a difference of water weights in unequal arms. According to the latter view, siphon action is analogous to the action of a pulley or to the behaviour of a chain that is moving over a tube. In this article, we show that a siphon made from non-uniform tubing disproves the validity of the pulley analogy. Our pedagogical experiments were inspired by the critique that Hero formulated many years ago. S Online supplementary data available from stacks.iop.org/physed/45/356/mmedia
Although the siphon is an amazingly simple and widely used device, explaining how it works has been a controversial topic debated for centuries. In the 17th century, due mainly to the work of Pascal , atmospheric pressure was considered as the main cause of the unnatural rise of water in a siphon. This view of the siphon, elaborated by considering hydrostatic pressures in the short and long arms, dominated textbooks in the 18th and 19th centuries . In the 20th century, the explanation of how a siphon works started to become more complex, involving the laws of hydrodynamics [2–4]. In addition, atmospheric pressure was no longer seen as a crucial factor in siphon action. In a simpliﬁed ‘new explanation’, atmospheric pressure was replaced with the idea that a siphon works because water of greater weight in the longer arm pulls out water of a smaller weight in the short arm. According to this view, the siphon action is analogous to the action of a pulley [5–8] or to the behaviour of a chain that is moving over a tube . Given that an explanation of siphon action is controversial  and non-trivial even for physicists, it is strange that textbook authors leave
PHYSICS EDUCATION 45 (4)
it to the students, as an end-of-chapter conceptual task such as ‘explain how a siphon works’ [10–12]. Students, from our experience, are prone to think that siphons operate like pulleys, i.e. due to a difference of water weights in unequal arms. In addition, some students, and even a Nobel Prize winner in physics , reveal so called linear causal reasoning: (1) The water in the long branch of the siphon ﬂows out. (2) A vacuum is created. (3) The atmospheric pressure pushes the water from the tank up the short branch. This causal reasoning involves a modern version of an Aristotelian conception known as horror vacui , according to which nature avoids every possibility of creating a vacuum. The pulley analogy apparently works well if the siphon tubing has a uniform cross section. If students, in both the real world and the classroom, experience only siphons of this kind, they have no reason to question more deeply the validity of this analogy.
0031-9120/10/040356+06$30.00 © 2010 IOP Publishing Ltd
we may prove as follows. Drill a hole in the plastic cap and mount the truncated bicycle valve into the cap. too late for Hero but still in time for our students. Cut out the bottom of the plastic bottle. attracts the shorter. But that such an explanation is incorrect.3 m. and therefore the alleged cause is not the true one . July 2010 Assembling the ﬁrst experiment Materials required (data in brackets refer to our experimental setup). and the outer much less in length but broader so as to contain more water than the longer leg. the outer leg. • Clothes peg. should draw the water out of the longer leg. • Two cylindrical containers for water (5 and 1 l). our ﬁrst experiment is a logical completion of his suggestion (having an inner leg of water that is shorter but heavier). if we allow the water to ﬂow. Slip one end of the plastic tubing onto the truncated valve and glue the two parts together so that the joint is airtight. The completed siphon is shown in ﬁgure 1. Then. inner diameter 5 mm. • Food colouring. But this is not found to be the case. Fill the large container with water. Finally. their ideas about how siphons work can now meet an appropriate and convincing challenge. close the free end of the ﬂexible tubing. plunge the longer leg into a vessel of water or a well. (1) Before performing the experiment make sure that students understand clearly how the experiment is constructed and the approximate PHYSICS EDUCATION 357 . and that he who believes so would be greatly mistaken if he were to attempt to raise water from a lower level. and put it in an elevated position. Cut off the end of the bicycle valve to obtain a hollow metal tube. there are some practical difﬁculties involved in the demonstration suggested. • Transparent plastic bottle with smooth walls (1. allow liquid to ﬂow until the whole tubing becomes ﬁlled with liquid. In our experiment the ratio between the liquid masses in the wider and narrower parts of the tubing was 40. Our two experiments were inspired by Hero’s critique. containing more than the inner. After ﬁlling the plastic bottle and part of the ﬂexible tubing with liquid by sucking the air out. and the discharge having begun will exhaust all the water or continue for ever. • Lab stand with clamp. fold the free end of the ﬂexible tubing and squeeze it with the clothes peg. Now. While the second experiment we describe is derived directly from Hero’s suggestion (having an outer leg of water that is shorter but heavier). of the idea underpinning the pulley analogy: Now some writers have given the above explanation of the action of the siphon. it is surprising that Hero’s clever objection to a popular explanation of siphon action has not been considered seriously in pedagogical literature until now. which will at the same time draw up the water in the well. adding a little food colouring. • Mountable bicycle valve. we show how a siphon made from non-uniform tubing can be used to question students’ preconceptions and demonstrate clearly the difference between siphon and pulley action.5 l). Lowering this end into the smaller container. to ﬁt to the bicycle valve). • Plastic bottle cap. Namely. Dip the lower part of the plastic bottle into the liquid and support the neck of the bottle with the clamp. having ﬁrst ﬁlled the siphon with water. which can be implemented in the following way. The experiment is now ready to be used in the classroom (ﬁgure 2). This article corrects an intellectual injustice. since the liquid without is more than that within. holding more. As will be seen later. Even so. • Transparent ﬂexible plastic tubing (length 1. Proposal for implementing the experiment in the classroom This experiment is very suitable for a so-called predict–observe–explain teaching sequence . Let there be a siphon with its inner leg longer and narrow. As Hero did not mention these. formulated many years ago. one should conclude that he conﬁned his efforts to a ‘thought experiment’. while the corresponding ratio between their hydrostatic pressures was about 5 (see ﬁgure 3).The pulley analogy does not work for every siphon In the present article. saying that the longer leg.
Remove the clothes peg and let the liquid run long enough for all students to see what happens (ﬁgure 5). 20 cm 1 litre 25 ml 1m Figure 3. (c) the liquid will remain stationary and to write down their choices. dimensions of the relevant parts. Figure 2. explaining any basic assumptions and reasoning that helped them decide between the options. 358 PHYSICS EDUCATION (b) the liquid will ﬂow from the narrower part of the siphon towards the wider part. (2) Bring the free end of the ﬂexible tubing close to the lower container (not yet opening it) and ask the students to predict what will happen to the liquid in the system when the free end is opened (ﬁgure 4). Siphon with non-uniform tubing ready for demonstration. This step is done as individual student work. Then close July 2010 . Again this step is done as individual student work. (b) bottle cap with mounted tubing. (3) Ask students to justify their choice in writing. Sketch of the experiment. A diagram of our experiment is shown in ﬁgure 3.G Planinˇ iˇ and J Sliˇ ko sc s a b Figure 1. Ask the students to choose between the following options: (a) the liquid will ﬂow from the wider part of the siphon towards the narrower part. (4) Show the experiment. (a) Completed siphon with non-uniform cross section.
if the diameter of the wider part is kept small enough so that surface tension prevents water from spilling out of the tubing. call one group to present their ﬁnal explanation and encourage other groups to give alternative explanations. before the liquid level in the larger container reaches the bottom rim of the bottle. corrections and comments on the reasoning presented by their peers. The second experiment The experimental setup presented above is not suitable for carrying out the demonstration suggested by Hero (with an outer arm of water that is shorter but heavier). this can be achieved. or groups of up to four students). Simple siphon with non-uniform cross section. Demonstration of the experiment. Finally. this should be done in writing. Finally. the ﬂexible tubing again. It is important not to describe this for them but rather to encourage students to observe and describe it by themselves. As before.The pulley analogy does not work for every siphon Figure 4. (5) Ask students to describe in writing what happens. Ask students to discuss in groups their individual predictions and reconcile any discrepancies with the outcome of the experiment. However.5 mm) and narrow bore plastic tubing (inner diameter 1 mm). This step can be done in different ways depending on the time available. individually. If time is short. (6) Ask students to reconcile their initial predictions with what actually happened. A very simple version of such a siphon can be made from a hypodermic syringe (inner diameter 4. It is very important that you stay neutral after any initial explanations and continue to encourage July 2010 other students to give alternative explanations. Position of the ﬂexible tubing during the time when students are asked to make predictions. then it is strongly recommended that this part is done in small groups (in pairs. ask them to identify possible errors in their reasoning and construct an improved explanation. If you have more time. repeat or give the correct explanation referring to explanations given by the students. Group work increases student motivation and stimulates critical thinking. Each group should formulate a common explanation of the experiment and write it down. Once this is done. repeat or give the correct explanation referring to explanations given by the students. corrections and comments. Figure 5. If their initial predictions were wrong. ask students to make corrections individually and then encourage volunteers to explain to the class what happens. Figure 6. which we bought in a shop that PHYSICS EDUCATION 359 .
Operation of simple non-uniform siphon in four steps.G Planinˇ iˇ and J Sliˇ ko sc s a b c d Figure 7. 360 PHYSICS EDUCATION July 2010 .
The siphon is again ﬁlled with liquid by sucking out air from the narrower tubing.edu/steam/hero/section1.org/physed/45/356/mmedia. Since 1993 he has been organizing the international workshop ‘New Trends in Physics Teaching’.rochester. NJ: Prentice-Hall) p 484 (Question 12)  Giancoli D C 2005 Physics Principles with Applications 6th edn (Upper Saddle River.iop. is its small size and a less spectacular mass ratio between the two liquid columns. 29 421  Barker H C 1920 The siphon in text-books Science 51 489  Potter A and Barnes F H 1971 The siphon Phys. In our experiment the length of the tubing was about 60 cm and the length of the syringe about 7 cm. The corresponding ratio of their hydrostatic pressures can be about 9 if the tubing is kept straight and vertical. selecting from the following options: (a) the liquid will ﬂow from the wider part of the siphon towards the narrower part. The ratio between the liquid masses in wider and narrower parts of the siphon was therefore about 2. Sci. compared to the siphon of the ﬁrst experiment. NJ: Prentice-Hall) p 280 (question 11)  Viennot L and Planinsic G 2009 The Siphon: A Staging Focused on a Systemic Analysis This paper was produced within the MUSE project and can be obtained at http://education. Mon.4. Warmelehre (Berlin: Springer) p 82  Chapman R E 2002 Physics for Geologists (London: Routledge) p 41  Hughes S W 2010 A practical example of a siphon at work Phys. Josip Sliˇko holds a PhD in the s philosophy of physics and is a full professor of physics and physics education at the Facultad de Ciencias F´sico Matematicas of the Benem´ rita ı e Universidad Aut´ noma de Puebla. He is a member of the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores (Level II). (b) the liquid will ﬂow from the narrower part of the siphon towards the wider part. A 2 110  Woodcroft B 1851 The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria (London: Taylor Walton and Maberly) This book can be found at www. This behaviour again contradicts the pulley analogy used by students. Educ.1088/0031-9120/45/4/005  Popular Science Monthly 1916 Experimenting with the siphon Pop. Received 10 February 2010. Sci. When the free end of the tubing is opened.pdf MUSE (More Understanding with Simple Experiments) is a project carried by the EPS Physics Education Division  Madey T E 1984 Early applications of vacuum. gluing the two parts together so that the connection is airtight (ﬁgure 6). Operation of both the siphons described in this paper can be seen in short movies that are available at stacks. epsdivisions. Acustik. the tubing is not immersed in the liquid in the container. PHYSICS EDUCATION References  Pascal B 1937 Treatise on the weight of the mass of the air The Physical Treatise of Pascal I H B Spiers and A G H Spiers (translators) and F Barry (introduction and notes) (New York: Columbia University Press) pp 42–5  Ganci S and Yegorenkov V 2008 Historical and pedagogical aspects of a humble instrument Eur. Again. o Mexico. Phys. Technol. According to that analogy. 45 162–6  Hecht E 1998 Physics: Algebra/Trig 2nd edn (Paciﬁc Grove. Obviously. Gasiorovicz S G and Thornton S T 2005 Physics for Scientists and Engineers 3rd edn (Upper Saddle River. J. He is co-founder and collaborator of the Slovenian hands-on science centre ‘The House of Experiments’. from Aristotle to Langmuir J.The pulley analogy does not work for every siphon supplies art materials. (c) the liquid will remain stationary. University of Ljubljana. He is also leading the Continuing Education Programme for in-service secondary school physics teachers. students should predict the behaviour of the liquid. 6 362  Grimsehl E 1912 Lehrbuch der Physik 2nd edn (Leipzig: Teubner) pp 276–7 July 2010 361 . Vac. His research interests are students’ construction of explanatory and predictive models of physical phenomena. CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company) p 326 (Question 6)  Fishbane P M. Educ. Slovenia where he is leading the Physics Education course. all the coloured liquid in the siphon will ﬂow out of it (ﬁgure 7). and students’ strategies in solving non-routine physics and mathematics problems. 89 82  Pohl R W 1955 Mechanik.org/muse/ example-siphon-documents/ staging the siphon.html (see section 1)  White R and Gunstone R 1992 Probing Understanding (London: Falmer Press) Gorazd Planinˇiˇ is associate professor sc at the Faculty for Mathematics and Physics. All you have to do is to insert the thin tubing into the outlet of the syringe. a disadvantage of this second siphon. history. To show clearly what happens to the liquid. heavier liquid in the wider part of the siphon should pull liquid out of the narrower part. in ﬁnal form 16 March 2010 doi:10.
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