Interlocking popsicle sticks in a chain adds tension to the construct. When released, the release motion of the sticks looks like a wave and scatters the sticks all over the area. It’s a great game to play, since children need to practice some motorics while at the same time learning about conversion of elastic potential energy into kinetic energy.
Picture by Jeremy Sautel, Andreane Bourges, Aude Caussarieu, Nicolas Plihon, and Nicolas Taberlet (2017) – The physics of a popsicle stick bomb
Interlocking the sticks is already a challenging task which takes some practice. But with every added stick you can already feel the tension that is added with every extra popsicle stick. And starting is fairly simple:
Starting with one popsicle stick, you only need to lay one other stick over the first one in the shape of an X. The third stick then needs to be tucked under the first one and goes over the second stick. The fourth stick should be tucked under the other side of the first stick and over the third stick. Besides the first two sticks, all sticks will have four contact points, adding more elastic potential energy to the construct.
The more sticks you add, the more awesome the chain reaction will be when finally released. The chain rising like a cobra and noisily spitting sticks out as it goes, isn’t it fantastic?
The experiment is fantastic as an introductory to solid mechanics. With high speed cameras (or the slow-motion setting of the iPhone), even particle tracking methods can be introduced. All in all, the phenomenon is fun to watch and easily rebuild. The energetic principles are comfortably explained and elaborated. The great thing about the popsicle stick weave is that it can be adapted to the knowledge level the children are on. From Junior High to Undergraduate, everyone can discover new aspects of physics with this experiments and this makes it so valuable for the Science classroom.