Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Earth and Sky by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Earth and Sky by  Anna Botsford Comstock

Experiments To Show Air Pressure


Leading thought—The air presses equally in all directions.

Experiment 1—To show that air presses upward—Fill a tumbler which has an unbroken edge as full of water as possible. Take a piece of writing paper and cover the tumbler, pressing the paper down firmly upon the edge of the glass. Turn the glass bottom side up and ask why the water does not flow out. Allow a little air to enter; what happens? Why? Turn the glass filled with water and covered with paper sidewise; does the water flow out? If not, why?

Experiment 2—To show that air passes downward—Ask some of the boys of the class to make what they call a sucker. This is a piece of leather a few inches across. Through its center a string is drawn which fits very closely into the leather and is held in place by a very flat knot on the lower side. Dampen the leather and press it against any flat surface, and try to pull it off. If possible, place the sucker on a flat stone and see how heavy a stone can be lifted by the sucker. Ask why a sucker clings so to the flat surface. If a little air is allowed to get between the sucker and the stone, what happens? Why?

Hints to the teacher regarding the Experiments—The water is kept in the tumbler in Experiment 1 by the pressure of the atmosphere against the paper. If the tumbler is tipped to one side the water still remains in the glass, which shows that the air is pressing against the paper from the side with sufficient force to restrain the water, and if the tumbler is tipped bottom side up it shows the air is pressing upward with sufficient force to keep the water within the glass.

In the case of Experiment 2, we know that the leather pressing upon the floor or on the stone is not in itself adhesive, but it is made wet simply so that it shall press against the smooth surface more closely. The reason why we cannot pull it off is that the air is pressing down upon it with the force of about fifteen pounds to the square inch. If the experiment is performed at sea level, we should be able to lift by the string of the sucker a stone weighing fifteen pounds. The reason why the water falls out of the tumbler after a little air is let beneath the paper, is that then the air is pressing on both sides of the paper; and the reason why the sucker will not hold if there is any air between it and the stone, is because the air is pressing in both directions upon it.

Supplementary reading—The Wonderbook of the Atmosphere, Houston, Chapters III, IV, V.

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