Activities-In-Action: Tornado in a Bottle

Our first Activity in Action comes from our very own student research assistants. We gave them a break from the daily grind to try one of the activities from our STEM-Works website, and since tornadoes have been such a hot topic as of late they decided to go with the Twister in a Bottle activity. Read on to learn about their experience!

 Tornado in a Bottle

Like it or not, tornadoes are a part of our world. The recent tragedy in Oklahoma motivated us to find out why these powerful weather phenomena occur. In this experiment we decided to make our own little tornado to learn more about the science and mechanics behind them.

This easy experiment is something you can do using materials you can find in your own house! We used two bottles, duct tape, water, and food coloring to create our own tornado.Materials0

Firstly, we poured water into one of the water bottles, then we added three drops of food coloring.Preparation 1

Secondly, we taped the two water bottles together at their mouths, leaving the water in the bottom bottle.Preparation 2

Lastly, we inverted the bottle with the water on the top and gave it a twist!Experiment 4

We found that the colored water swirled from the bottle on the top bottle to the bottle on the bottom, just like the wind pattern of a tornado! But don’t take our word for it… Try this experiment yourself. What results do you come up with? Can you change the size or shape of this experiment?

Want to learn more about the inner workings of a tornado? Check out this video taken by a camera placed directly in the path of a tornado.

Where Are They Now: Cool Jobs Alum Tim Marshall

Tim Marshall, Civil Engineer and Meteorologist

When disaster strikes, our cool jobs alumni are there. Tim Marshall, Civil Engineer and Meteorologist, has been busy responding to the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Somber events like this one leave an abundance of damage in their wake, and Marshall gets called in to assess that damage—“mother nature’s fingerprint,” he calls it.

Marshall recently spoke to NPR’s Melissa Block to discuss his assessment of the structural damage in Moore, Oklahoma. In his interview with  NPR he drew attention to the positive changes in the structures of Moore following the devastating tornadoes in 1999 as well as the concerning oversights in those structures. He also discussed how buildings leave evidence of how they failed to withstand large tornadoes, even when these structures are no longer standing. “Even a house that is no longer there provides ample evidence for us,” he explained. Something as small as a nail can leave a mark, and that tiny mark can explain how an entire wall had failed.

MarshallMarshall is no stranger to the wrath of tornadoes. During his Cool Jobs interview he spoke of how a tornado he personally experienced as a child amplified his natural curiosity toward weather.  “I really didn’t know what this thing was that came out of the sky and did all of this damage, and I got very interested in the damage itself” he explained. Marshall now assesses the damage caused by major natural disasters in the hopes that he can help communities avoid fatal flaws in building construction.

Check out his full NPR interview, or find out more about Tim Marshall’s journey to his cool job in his original Cool Jobs interview.