Cartesian diver

Compressibility of water and air.

Today I want to talk about the different compressibilities of water and air. Actually, no, I just want to show you an experiment. One way to visualize that air is a whole lot more compressible than water is to look at cartesian divers. You probably know the fancy ones as shown on the far left of the picture below that you typically find at Christmas Markets or high-end (i.e. nerdy) toy stores.

But, as you probably guessed already, this post is about making those divers from scratch. You probably know that you could just use those old-fashioned eye-drop pipettes, or normal plastic pipettes. But how boring is that? (Plus how much material do you need when doing this experiment with a big class!) All you need is shown in the image below: Straws, scissors and paper clips.

Some of the more complicated instructions tell you to cut a piece of straw and put modeling clay on top to seal it, but I’m lazy. A much simpler version is shown here: Bend a straw, cut the long end, close the two ends together with a paper clip (also helps as added weight to adjust the buoyancy of the diver) and there you are!

How does that homemade diver dance? Watch the movie below:

So how do the classical cartesian diver compare to homemade one?

So we see that while both of them dive up and down, they don’t behave exactly the same. And if we were using this experiment in class, we would now talk about how this is due to the different volumes of air in the two divers, and the different densities of the structures themselves. But what I find much more important right now: My diver doesn’t turn as nicely as the conventional one! So what is one to do?

Exactly. Poke a hole in it. Let’s find out if that did the trick?

Almost as nice as the glass diver, no? So now start playing and send me movies of your divers! :-)