Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Vortex Cannons
Name: Diane H.
Status: educator
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Thursday, April 25, 2002

We did an experiment using vortex cannons made with PVC pipe of a consistent diameter and 3 varying lengths. There was a balloon stretched across one end and card stock with a hole on the opposite end. We used a "marble hammer" and cannon holder so that we used the same force to tap the cannon every time. From our research, we expected to see the shortest pipe send rings out that went the farthest. What we saw was that the shortest pipe indeed performed best, but that the mid-length pipe performed worst. We tried several different things...first, each pipe had its own balloon. We then tried using the same balloon on all 3 cannons, taking care to put it on the same way every time. There is a slight "innie" or "outie" depending on how you put the balloon on the pipe (we either used all "innies" or all "outies". We got the same results every time, regardless of what balloon we used or how we put it on...the mid-length cannon always performed worst. We do not have a good explanation for what we saw. Can you give us some ideas?


I cannot say for sure, but I do have a suggestion. When you hit the balloon, it vibrates at a certain frequency. The vibrations will travel through the air at the speed of sound. These two factors yield a wavelength for the vibrations. Since a great deal of the vibration is reflected back and forth repeatedly, the effect may be due to wave interference. It is possible that the standing wave that builds up in the medium pipe has very little vibration at the output end. Perhaps more of the energy is output through the balloon. Try a very thick balloon stretched to about the same tension as a thin balloon. If this makes a difference, then interference is supported: the heavier balloon will oscillate more slowly. If no difference occurs, I expect there is another factor.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory