It’s something we’ve all seen- whether on TV or in real life. A skydiver jumps out of an airplane 10,000 feet in the air, and is able to land safely on the ground with the help of their parachute. How do parachutes work to gently float our skydiver back down to the ground? I am here to explain it all to you, but first let me show you how to make a small parachute using materials you probably already have lying around the house.
Materials to Collect
- Plastic trash bag
- Dinner plate
- Index Card
- Small, light toys (Optional)
- Art supplies (markers, colored pencils, etc)
1. Cut down a long side of the trash bag, and across the bottom of it so it opens up and lays flat.
2. Lay the opened trash bag on the floor and place the dinner plate on the trash bag.
3. Use a marker to trace the plate on the trash bag.
4. Cut out the circle.
5. Cut 4 pieces of string that are about the same length.
6. Tape the pieces of string to the trash bag circle.
7. Pinch the middle of the trash bag so it looks like a weird jellyfish with the strings hanging down. Gather the pieces of string and tie them in a knot.
8.Decorate the index card with a drawing of yourself or something that you want to be your skydiver!
9.Curl your index card skydiver into a tube and tape it so it will hold its shape.
10.Tape a penny to your index card skydiver, and tape the parachute strings to the inside of it.
11. Stand on a chair (with adult supervision) and drop your parachute.
What is the Science?
A parachute works by using air pressure to a skydiver’s advantage! As your skydiver is pulled to the ground by gravity, the shape of the parachute traps a cushion of air underneath it. This air resists or pushes against the parachute and the skydiver, causing the skydiver to slow down and land more gently. The shape of the parachute and the material it is made out of are designed to create enough air resistance so that the skydiver will land safely. See if you can change your parachute design to make it even better at getting your skydiver to the ground safely!
Ask Your Young Scientists
-What happens if you tape your strings all in one spot on the trash bag?
-What happens if you use more or less strings to connect your parachute to your skydiver?
-Does making the parachute trash bag different shapes or sizes change how well it floats through the air?
-Can you add more weight to your index card skydiver? How does that change how your parachute floats?
-Tape a small toy to your parachute strings. What happens when you drop the parachute now?
More to Explore
-Try using different materials for the top of your parachute! What do you think will change? Some suggested materials are: wrapping paper, tissue paper, and bread bags!
Other Parachute Designs: https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Toy-Parachute
Share photos or videos of your parachute design with us by tagging us @CTScienceCenter and #ScienceAtPlay !
Jessie Scott is a STEM Educator who enjoys encouraging students’ enthusiasm for science. She teaches classes to students visiting the Science Center and brings STEM lessons to schools across Connecticut. Jessie completed her Master of Science degree in Microbiology at Dartmouth College and worked as a science educator at the Montshire Museum of Science before coming to the Connecticut Science Center. Her scientific interests are: biology – how living things have adapted different strategies to survive in their environments, insects, and plants. In her free time, Jessie likes to go rock climbing, hiking, and skiing.