Introduction: LED Parachute a La CMH

Create an unidentified floating object! This is a great activity not only on simple circuits, but also on air resistance/drag and aerodynamics. Also easily folds up into the pocket like the parachute people toys, only a lot easier to find at night!

This is one of the projects for our Instructables: Made In Your Mind (IMIYM) exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Houston . Produced in partnership with Instructables, IMIYM is an exhibit where families work together to build different fun, toy-like projects that help construct knowledge and skills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while instilling a “do-it-yourself” attitude in kids so they feel empowered to explore, tinker, and try to make things themselves. To learn more, check out the article here.

For this project, we were inspired by the LED Parachuties Instructable created by Artificial Intelligence, but there may be others on Instructables that are also similar. Often, the materials and process for building our projects are designed for use with a large number of visitors (we see over 800,000 annually) and the need to ensure safety in a mostly non-facilitated environment. So, yes, many of these projects have room for improvement in both materials and methodology, which is PRECISELY what we want to encourage the kids to do. So please do share your ideas for improvement and modifications!

Step 1: What You Need:

  • 1 - CR2032 Coin battery – we get these in bulk from Batteries and Butter
  • 1 – 10mm LED – we get these in bulk from Leading LEDs
  • 1 – 20” x 20” Sheet of Tissue Paper – available at your local craft/hobby shop (you can also cut down larger paper to a square - at least 20" is recommended)
  • 48 inches - String
  • Scissors
  • Masking Tape
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Hole punch
We are selective in our materials for cost, ease of use, and safety due to our high traffic (800,000 visitors annually). So, for our purposes, this design worked best. But you may have other ideas - please share!

Step 2: The Video

We offer optional video segments of each step for this project in the actual exhibit. Here is a compilation of all the steps.


Step 3: Preparing the Parachute

Punch one hole in each corner of the tissue paper square, about ½ inch from the edge. If you have problems with it tearing, add a small piece of tape to the corner and punch through that.

Cut 4 pieces of string, each 12 inches long. Thread a piece of string through each hole and tie a knot. Be careful not the rip the tissue. Add a piece of tape over each knot to help reinforce the tissue paper.

Step 4: Preparing the LED

Find the long and the short wire coming off the LED. Slide the LED over the battery with the long wire on the “+” side of the battery and the short wire on the other side of the battery. If the LED doesn’t light up, try flipping the battery over before taping. Use masking tape to tightly tape the wires from the LED to the battery. The LED should be lit when you take your fingers off the connections.

Step 5: Putting It Together

Tape all four pieces of string together in the middle. Tape the string bundle to the battery/LED.

Step 6: To Use:

To use, hold the Parachutie from the middle and drop it from as high as you can! Image a whole swarm of them dropping at night! Great fun!

The LED Parachute floats slowly down to the ground because of two forces: gravity and air resistance. When you drop the LED Parachute, gravity pulls it towards the ground. However, the LED Parachute does not just immediately fall. Instead, the air pushes against the expanded tissue paper, slowing the fall. This air resistance, or drag, is what allows the parachute to gently glide to the ground.

What would happen if you increased the size of the parachute? Or changed the amount of weight? Or the material of the parachute? Lots to experiment and explore! Have fun!

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Bio: More than 14 pulsating exhibits make the Children's Museum of Houston one of the top rated in the country. Packed with daily activities and ... More »
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