Cloud In A Bottle

Now-you-see-it, now-you-don't! This is a good trick for people to try themselves, watching a cloud appear and disappear before their own eyes.

Ingredients:

  • plastic bottle with cap (fairly flexible e.g. from most soft drinks)
  • water
  • match

Instructions

  • Place a splash (~1 teaspoon) of water into the plastic bottle.
  • Light the match and make sure it is burning well, then drop it into the bottle.
  • Quickly screw the cap on, and squeeze the bottle with your hand five or six times (for larger bottles you may have to do it slightly more). You should see a cloud form in the bottle, then magically disappear when you squeeze it.
  • Pass the bottle around the audience to give everyone a chance to experience it for themselves.

How Does it Work?

Clouds are formed when water droplets in the air cool and then collect on dust particles. In this demonstration, the dust particles were provided by the smoke from the match. The air inside the bottle was cooled by releasing the pressure after the bottle was squeezed. The temperature is changed by squeezing the bottle: the amount of air within the bottle is constant, but squeezing the plastic bottle changes the volume of the gas. Expanding the bottle causes a lowering of the air temperature – in this case, enough to cause the water gas to form a liquid – the cloud.

Tips for Success

Try adding a small amount of food colouring to the water – it can help to increase the visibility of the effect.

Serving Suggestions

This works well for small groups of people of all ages. It is particularly applicable in outside environments where you can actually see clouds and potentially discuss the science behind them.

Did You Know?

This demonstration involves building a small cloud chamber exactly like those used to first record the tracks of subatomic particles (alpha and beta radiation) by Charles Wilson in 1911. Wilson (who was born on St Valentine’s Day) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927 for this discovery.