ERIC Number: EJ876124
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Mar
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 8
Measuring Air Density in the Introductory Lab
Calza, G.; Gratton, L. M.; Lopez-Arias, T.; Oss, S.
Physics Teacher, v48 n3 p189-190 Mar 2010
The measurement of the mass, or the density, of air can easily be done with very simple materials and offers many interesting phenomena for discussion--buoyancy and its effects being the most obvious but not the only one. Many interesting considerations can be done regarding the behavior of gases, the effect of the external conditions in the measurement, and the reason for the choice of the procedure, among others. One of the most widespread approaches makes use of rubber balloons. Such an approach can be misleading if attention is not paid to the effect of the buoyant force on the balloon, exerted by the surrounding air. Air is weightless in an environment full of it. While this fact can usually be neglected in daily, nontechnical weight measurements, it is not the case when we are interested in the weight of air itself. A sketch such as the one depicted in Fig. 1 is often presented in elementary science textbooks, as a demonstration that air has weight. A search of the Internet will reveal that this misleading approach is often presented as the simplest one for this kind of measurement at an elementary level 1 and represents one among other common misconceptions that can be found in K-6 science textbooks as discussed, for instance, in Ref. 2. For a more detailed description of the flaws inherent to the measurement of air's weight with a rubber balloon, see Ref. 3. In this paper we will describe two procedures to measure the density of air: weighing a PET bottle and a vacuum rigid container. There are other interesting ways to estimate the weight of air; see, for instance, the experiment of Zhu and Se-yuen using carbon dioxide and Archimedes' principle. We emphasize the experimental implications and the physical reasons for the accuracy and conceptual correctness of each method. It is important not to undervalue the importance of both simplicity and reliability for any experimental measurement made in a didactic context.
Descriptors: Elementary School Science, Textbooks, Scientific Concepts, Misconceptions, Science Instruction, Physics, Evaluation Methods, Internet
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A