Sunday, January 8, 2017

Balloon Car Science

A guest post written by Younger Daughter


As Lab Partner and I stood, with the sun at our backs and the balloon car before us, we knew that we could do no more. It was about to be winter break, and neither one of us would be here on the day that the balloon cars would be tested, since we were instead going to various lectures and better learning opportunities (a.k.a. starting vacation early). There would be no more opportunities to improve, no more variables to test. Our grade was in the hands of our teacher, who had promised to test the car in our place, as we had asked him prior to signing our absence forms.

The trek had been long and arduous, and the car itself had gone through many redesignings, resulting in broken corks, makeshift straws, and wood shavings all over our desks. But now, as we stared at the CD wheels, chopstick axles, and balloon set to propel us to glory, we could not help but feel proud, and terrified. For if it didn’t work, if it didn’t go the distance required… It would result in a grade of zero. For both of us.

The Epic of the Physics Balloon Car

When we returned from break, both Lab Partner and I checked our grades anxiously, as we waited for this notoriously tardy teacher to put in the grades he had neglected all week, apparently unaware of our desperation. But when it finally appeared, our shock rang for miles around the sun, for a zero appeared next to the 25 points meant for our balloon car. Partner and I were both angry, but I felt that it was a fault of our own, that our shaky and fragile vehicle had been unable to stand up to the challenge. Partner encouraged me to stand and fight, and ask our teacher why we got a zero, but confronting a teacher, especially such a one as this, about this kind of decision? I remained behind, and Partner went to fight alone.

He returned, yea, with not broken and bloody bones from a reading of the riot act, yet with grave news. For our teacher, in his treachery, had not even tested our balloon car, and had given us zeroes without explanation. Though both of us boiled under this betrayal, the might of the teacher was too great, and we knew we could not face him. We resigned ourselves to the zero, with the promise of further burdens of homework and points to come.

Yet, the gods were with us, and there came a time when we had completed our next lab early, and the teacher’s mercy was enough to allow us to test our balloon car in front of him. We went into the hallway, bound by walls (though no windows, as our school was designed like a prison), and ready to redeem our zeroes that had brought our grades down a letter.

But fate is a fickle mistress, for though she had given us the chance to bring back our grades, she sent down the gods of Clumsiness and Poor Planning, causing our balloon car to fall to pieces. We were almost turned to tears at the sight of this collapsed vehicle, yet we did not despair. We rushed inside, grabbed materials, and began to rebuild. We created new wheels, making up new designs off the top of our heads, grabbing and cutting and taping. And yet, every time we tested it, it was not enough. Either it would run into a wall, or else it wouldn’t go the required distance for getting a grade, and once again we were close to despairing. I ran back into the classroom to get more materials, and thunder and lightning seemed to flash as the teacher raised his head. “Oh, are you guys ready? I’ll come out.” With terror in my heart, and prayer on my lips, I had no choice but to lead him out into the hallway. I blew up the balloon, as Partner set the car facing the right way, and I knew this was our last chance. We would either succeed, or fail. There was no alternative. We attached the balloon, braced ourselves for our fates, and released.

It trundled forward, the balloon pushing the product of my lungs, turning it into propellant. But, something was different about it this time. Something had changed. The balloon car kept going… and going… and it didn’t stop! It even went past the required distance, giving Partner and me bonus points for all our work! Truly, the gods were on our side that day, as our hard work and belief in Lady Luck had paid off at last. The teacher entered in our points the next day, jumping our grades to over 100 percent. And at last, the balloon car could disappear from our minds into the epochs of history.

* * * * * * * *

When Younger Daughter reported this triumph to us, she was particularly excited about the balloon car going even further than required.  My husband said, “That is evidence of God.”  Then he asked, “What was the problem – why wouldn’t it go the first few times?”

YD said, not quite explaining,  “It would either stop dead or hit into the wall.”

My husband, ever practical said, “Clearly the solution is to move the wall.”

I must add that this physics class is YD’s least favorite class this school year. When she says that the balloon car will disappear from her mind, she means it.  Also, in the first sentence the “sun at our backs” is a metaphorical sun.  The school building is truly prison-like, with very little sunlight penetrating the interior.  I guess the architect thought that light would be a distraction from learning.


Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I commiserate about the lack of sunlight. But huzzah for a car that exceeded expectations! My sons did that last year, his car "passed" but it was a stressful activity.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Son #3 had a middle school built like that -- a great place to be in a tornado but every other day of the year it was like a prison. I'm feeling anxious over the whole balloon car escapade and relieved that it finally worked in the crucial moment.