how to build
How to Build a
Air Cannons, Magnet
Motors, and 25 Other
Amazing DIY Science Projects
Text copyright © 2013 by Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe.
Photographs copyright © 2013 by Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe
Barbershop pole on page 26, magnetic field on page 99, and funnel cloud
on page 110 © Shutterstock.com
Mushroom cloud photograph on page 111 © Corbis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
without written permission from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available.
Manufactured in China
Designed by Alissa Faden
Illustrations by Stephen Voltz and Hillary Caudle.
Torus schematic on page 110 by Yassine Mrabet.
discl a imer :
As with any project, it is important that all instructions are followed carefully;
failure to do so could result in injury. Every effort has been made to present
the information in this book in a clear, complete, and accurate manner;
however, not every situation can be anticipated and there is no substitute
for your own common sense. Wear eye protection when advised. Use caution
when handling dangerous objects. Be careful when using power tools or
manipulating projectiles. Before beginning any project, ask yourself what
could go wrong, and plan for that contingency. The authors and Chronicle
Books disclaim any and all liability resulting from injuries or damage caused
during the production or use of the projects discussed in this book.
“Eepybird,” “Eepybird.com,” and the cross-eyed Eepybird cartoon character are
trade and service marks of Eepybird, LLC, Buckfield, Maine.
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Chronicle Books LLC
680 Second Street
San Francisco, California 94107
5 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
The Growing Head Illusion is one of the most mind-bending optical
illusions ever discovered. Simply gaze at the center of the spinning
spiral for 20 seconds, then look at your friend, and it will seem as
though his or her head is expanding like a giant balloon. The illusion
typically lasts for as long as 10 to 15 seconds.
Reverse the direction of the spiral, and your friend’s head will seem
like it’s shrinking.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Sometimes known as the “waterfall illusion” or the
too hot at first becomes the perfect temperature if we
“motion aftereffect,” this illusion is said to have been
just stay in for a minute or so. The water remains the
observed by Aristotle over two thousand years ago.
same temperature, but our senses adapt. Then, if we’re
An Englishman, R. Adams, named it the “waterfall
splashed with room-temperature water, that water will
illusion” after observing the effect while watching the
Scottish “Fall of Foyers.” Whenever he looked away
In a similar way, a quiet room can suddenly seem
from the waterfall after observing it for some time, the
impossibly quieter when the refrigerator cycles off.
rocks to the side of the falls appeared to be moving
And it accounts for why, upon returning to land after
being at sea, ship passengers often feel as though the
In this experiment, as you gaze at the spinning
spiral for about 20 seconds, you experience the illusion
ground is rolling like waves.
In each of these situations, we first notice a
that things are getting smaller or fading off into the
stimulus distinctly, even intensely, but if it remains
distance. When you look away, the motion aftereffect
constant, then it gradually fades out of our
reverses the impression, making whatever you look at
consciousness. That stimulus becomes normalized,
appear to be growing.
and we notice any change only in relation to it. If our
senses have adapted to a hot bath, room-temperature
water will feel cold, and so on.
Exactly what’s going on between the eye and the brain
As you stare at the spinning spiral, your vision
to make this happen isn’t completely understood. One
grows accustomed to the sensation that everything
theory is that the neurons in our eyes become fatigued
is shrinking into the distance at the center of the
watching the same motion for too long, and so they
spiral. Then, when you switch to looking at something
are too tired to adjust back immediately when we look
normal, it looks like it’s getting bigger simply because
away. Another, probably better, theory is that this is a
you have adapted to expect that what you are seeing is
case of what’s known as “sensory adaptation.”
Almost all of our senses respond to a continuous
stimulus by gradually reducing whatever sensation
we are experiencing. This is why bathwater that feels
6 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
You can find this image at
or use the QR code below.
7 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
8 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
THE EXPERIMENT: THE GROWING HEAD ILLUSION
HOW TO BUILD IT
■■ the spiral image in this book (pages 22 and 23)
Photocopy the 2-page spiral design
shown on pages 22 and 23. You can also download the
■■ the spiral image from EepyBird.com (which you
can download for free)
■■ 2 sheets of 8.5" x 11" white paper (if you’re
downloading the digital image)
■■ Scotch tape or glue
2-page pattern from EepyBird.com and print it out.
The spiral will be 91⁄2" in diameter, which is too big to
fit on one standard sheet of paper, so each page only
shows part of the spiral. Cut out the portion of the
whole image on each page, and use Scotch tape or
glue to fasten them together to form a circle.
■■ duct tape
Trace the circle’s diameter on a piece of
cardboard and cut it out.
■■ electric drill
Glue or tape the paper spiral to the
cardboard circle to give it a solid backing.
Use duct tape to attach the back of the
■■ color or black and white printer (if you're
onto the end of the drill, without using a drill bit. Make
cardboard spiral to the end of the drill; tape right
downloading the digital image)
sure that the center of the spiral is centered on the tip
of the drill.
Hold the trigger of the drill so that the
spiral spins at a medium speed.
Have a friend (or better, a group of friends)
stand 10 or 15 feet away from the spiral and gaze at
the center of the circle steadily for 20 seconds while
the spiral spins. Be patient and have everyone gaze
steadily the entire time; don’t rush. It helps if the
person holding the drill slowly counts down from 20.
After 20 seconds, have your friend(s)
look directly at the nose of the person holding the
drill, whose head will look like it’s inflating like a giant
balloon. The illusion will last for a full 10 to 15 seconds.
If you repeat this with the drill spinning the other way,
it will create the opposite effect: it will look like the
person’s head is shrinking.
9 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
10 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
The Growing Head Illusion is particularly powerful
because it involves multiple optical illusions at the
same time. First, the spinning spiral isn’t really
growing or shrinking. That effect itself is an optical
illusion, the simplest version of which is known as the
“barber pole illusion.”
The spiraling stripes on a spinning barber pole
give the illusion of up or down motion (depending on
which way the pole spins). As with most optical illusions, the barber pole illusion is based on ambiguous
information that our eye receives. The moving stripes
on a barber pole create the same image on our retina
whether the pole is 1) spinning or 2) not spinning but
moving upward. Given this ambiguous information,
our brain makes a guess and interprets the action as
A spiral creates a circular version of the barber pole
illusion. The spinning disc appears to be moving in
on itself when spinning in one direction and moving
outward and expanding when spinning in the other
direction. This gives the illusion that the spiral is
growing or that it’s shrinking. Sometimes this can also
feel as though we’re moving in toward the center of
the spiral or being pulled back away from it.
When we look away, sensory adaptation creates a
reverse illusion: if the spiral appeared to be shrinking,
whatever we look at next will appear to grow larger.
Thus, a friend’s head will seem to inflate like a balloon.
pipe, and it will feel warm to the hand that had been
holding the cold pipe.
This experience has nothing to do with the
“objective” temperature of the pipes, or with your
conscious expectation of what should feel warmer
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF
or colder. Your brain automatically and involuntarily
There’s a great demonstration of sensory adaptation
decides what’s “warm” and what’s “cold.” The fact that
using touch at San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum
the room-temperature pipe is experienced as both
involving three copper pipes: one warm, one room
“warm” and “cold” at the same time, but by different
temperature, and one cold. In the experiment, you
hands, makes clear that the relative difference of
wrap one hand around the warm pipe and the other
change is what guides our sensory perceptions.
around the cold pipe.
interprets the change or difference in temperature and
To put it differently, our sensing organs—our skin,
After about 15 seconds, long enough to establish a
ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and so on—continue to report
new (but different) “normal” for each hand, you wrap
accurately to our brain, but the receptor cells in our
both hands around the room-temperature pipe. The
brain report and notice the relative change.
room-temperature pipe will now feel astonishingly
cold to the hand that had been holding the warm
Sensory adaptation like this improves our ability to
discern slight but critical changes in our environment
11 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT
that we might otherwise miss. For example, when
we’re driving down a highway, we adapt to our speed,
and this improves our ability to notice small speed
increases or decreases, which without that adaptation
we would not be able to notice. From the side of the
road, it’s hard to tell whether or not a passing car is
accelerating from 60 miles per hour to 70 miles per
hour, but if you are in that car or driving along next to
it, this is easy to tell.
THE POWER OF SENSORY ADAPTATION
Sensory adaptation can work in remarkable and
complex ways. For instance, experimental psychology
pioneer George Stratton invented a headset with a pair
of glasses that made the world appear both upside
down and reversed left and right. He wore the glasses,
which were rigged with mirrors that inverted the light
rays hitting his retina, for about a week, at which point
Stratton reported that his brain had adjusted to them,
automatically adapting the odd input so that the world
appeared perfectly right side up to him. He got around
just fine. This was true despite the fact that he knew
the glasses inverted the world.
After he removed the glasses, it took several hours
for his sensory perception to return to normal. The
world no longer appeared upside down and left to
right, but he continued to react as if it was. He found
himself reaching for objects on his left side with his
right hand, and vice versa.
For more ideas, videos, and variations,
12 HOW TO BUILD A HOVERCRAFT