Created by Dale Olive and Randy Scoville
Future Flight Hawai`i instructors
Demonstration at a glance:
A match wrapped in foil is placed on a bent paper clip and heated up until it fires.
Paper matches work best because of their lower weight. Cut a one-inch by six-inch piece of aluminum foil and lay the match head up on the foil. Wrap the match as tightly as you can leaving a little bit of foil extending beyond the head of the match. Take the piece that extends beyond the head and twist to a point. Lay the match on a paper clip bent to the desired angle. Hold a lighter or another lit match under the head of the wrapped match until it lights and takes off. Be careful as these matches can fly up to 30 feet or more if built properly. Their low mass makes them safe but precautions should still be taken when doing this in a classroom.
Matches only need heat to ignite the head. Once the wrapped match is lit, the heat and exhaust cannot exit out of the twisted head portion and so must force its way down the shaft between the foil and match. According to Newton's third law, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" so the force of the gas moving downwards creates an opposite force upwards.
I've seen students do science projects based on match rockets. They have looked at variables such as angle shot, brand of matches, and type of wrapping. All of them used horizontal launchers where the angle was fixed to do away with the extra variable.
Communications: Hawaii Space Grant Office
This activity is featured in Future Flight Hawaii, a K-12 Education Project of Hawaii Space Grant Consortium.
FEB 27 2001.