Don’t stop enjoying learning!

25th July 2017
Water lesson

In this post I’ d like to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, in the 1st century AD, there was a Greek mathematician and engineer, Heron of Alexandria.

He was an extraordinary scientist and expert of mathematics, mechanics, physics, and pneumatics.Many of you maybe remember the Heron’s formula for the area of triangle. But he is known for aeolipile: the first steam-powered engine. This device consists of a sphere mounted on a boiler by an axial shaft with two canted nozzles that produce a rotary motion as steam escapes. The aeolipile is the first known device to transform steam into rotary motion. It was created almost two millennia before the industrial revolution! Heron is considered the greatest experimenter of antiquity and in my opinion he was a genius, like the Italian Leonardo da Vinci.

This is an interesting story, however I suppose you do not know the beautiful Heron’s fountain. Heron’s fountain is made of 3 containers of different heights: a basin on top, a water supply in the middle and an unloading tank at the bottom. The basin is connected with the other two containers. A pipe at the bottom of the basin connects it to the tank and a second pipe connects the top of the basin to the bottom of the water supply container.

Initially, the unloading tank contains only air and the water supply contains only water. To start the fountain, water must be poured into the basin.

Steam engine
Heron fountain

The water from the basin flows into the unloading tank thanks to gravity. In this container, there is a decrease of pressure; the water is hence forced in the supply to be issued out of the top as a fountain. The fountain water caught in the basin drains back into the unloading tank. Keep clam! Heron’s fountain is not a perpetual motion machine. The flow stops when the water supply container is empty.

But why am I telling you the story of Heron and its fountain? The Heron’s fountain is my favorite scientific toy, that is used for outreach activities. Last year, INFN Pavia Division has built a didactic version of Heron’s fountain. It is used in the fluid dynamics laboratory for children. The kids love the games with water and the fountain has been very successful as a simple demonstration of principles of fluid dynamics. With Heron’s fountain, the kids can learn the effect of gravity and pressure.

In addition to my research, I am involved in outreach activities. I love playing with physics and encourage the curiosity. These activities give me many satisfactions and the energy to face the challenges of my work. And even though they are small experiments, Physics never stops to surprise me. Don’t stop enjoying learning!