It’s been a stormy summer in Minnesota, and we’ve seen more than our fair share of tornadoes. As a kid, I was always fascinated by stories of pieces of straw from a field being driven into wooden planks in barns and houses by the swirling winds.
With a potato, plastic drinking straws and a glass of water, we were able to see for ourselves how this could happen. Like drinking straws, real straw is hollow and although a potato is much softer than a piece of wood, we got the picture. I was skeptical about the experiment, but it worked!
Just soak a potato in a glass of water for about 30 minutes. We used a red, boiling potato, because that’s what I had on hand.
Then, grasp a straw tightly, near the middle and stab it into the potato. We were surprised to find that, instead of breaking or bending, the straw can be driven quite a way into the potato. This happens because objects in motion, like the straw, tend to stay in motion and objects at rest, like the potato, tend to stay at rest. This is known as inertia. In addition, the thin edges of a drinking straw don’t offer much resistance.