Parental Note: This experiment is geared towards ages 8 and up. The project may require some support to glue materials and hold the popsicle sticks in place.
Additional Note: This experiment will take roughly 45 minutes to complete.
When you stretch a rubber band or bend a popsicle stick, it stores potential energy which is energy held by an object because of its position relative to other objects. When you release the rubber band or the bent popsicle stick, the potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, which is energy in motion. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In this activity, you will demonstrate the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy by creating a chain reaction using popsicle sticks!
- 40 or more popsicle sticks
- Pink, yellow, and green markers or highlighters
Build your starter piece. Place three sticks in a row about an inch apart and staggered.
Use glue to attach two sticks across the top of the three staggered sticks.
Once the glue dries, flip the sticks over and attach two more sticks to the back side of the three staggered sticks with glue. Let dry.
Use different colored markers or highlighters to color your starter piece as shown. It can help you learn how to weave the sticks by following a color pattern.
From your remaining popsicle sticks, make four separate piles of ten sticks. Color one pile pink, one pile yellow, one green, and leave the other plain (white).
Assemble the chain as follows:
- Pink sticks go over yellow and under green
- White sticks go over green and under yellow
- Yellow sticks go over white and under pink
You will need to keep your hands on the sticks and use some pressure to keep the sticks together as you build the next set.
*Tip: Notice how there are always two parallel sticks sticking out. Thread the next stick in the pattern under the shortest of these two and over the longer one. Keep building your chain until you have used all your sticks!
To set off your chain reaction, release your hold, or remove the stick that is keeping the last few sticks in place.
When you build a chain of popsicle sticks that are slightly bent over one another, the twisting and bending create lots of potential energy within the wooden fibers of the stick. When you let one of the popsicle sticks in the chain go, you experience Newton’s Third Law by watching the chain come undone as much of the potential energy is converted into kinetic energy!
Try this again, but this time add more sticks to your chain!