Day 107: Mythbusters & Falling Objects

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Watching Mythbusters test the Penny Drop myth. Would you survive getting hit with a penny dropped from the Empire State Building?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Would a penny dropped off The Empire State Building kill you if you were unlucky enough to stand in the wrong spot? I wanted a way to introduce drag along with vertical motion because ignoring air resistance denies the world students are already familiar with.

Fortunately, the Mythbusters tackled this myth in their first season and it’s on Netflix. So today, we did the following:

  1. Neglecting air resistance, how fast would a penny be moving just before striking the pavement after being dropped from the Empire State Building? Don’t tell the kids how tall the building is! Let them find it online. (~85 m/s or ~200mph)
  2. Would you survive a penny impact at that speed?
  3. Bring up Mythbusters (S1E4) — the Penny Drop myth is the first segment of the show and isn’t sprinkled throughout the episode, thankfully.
  4. Discuss terminal velocity and ask why a penny’s top speed is much lower than that predicted for the no-air-resistance case. Optional: pull up a drag equation and show what factors play into drag force.

We’ll be doing computational modeling of a case of drag, so this discussion was vital in my classes.

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5 thoughts on “Day 107: Mythbusters & Falling Objects

  1. How are you going to do computational modeling of fall with drag?
    How many kids are in this class? I love your room!

    • This class normally has 16. Some were out this day for state athletic events, so it looks even tinier.

      As for modeling with drag, I’ll share the python script here for you to see/use. And before you go getting all impressed, I didn’t write it. The PER group at Georgia Tech did. They’re studying the use of computational modeling in K12 classrooms and I’m part of the study, along with about half a dozen other local teachers.

  2. Are you going to model the penny drop? I think that would be a pretty awesome way to test the mythbusters, and AFAIK, I don’t think it’s ever been done.

  3. Pingback: Day 109: Recording Videos | Physics180

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