Affordable materials for geoscience teaching demonstrations

Ralph Bunche Middle School Event

On May 22nd, 2017, we visited Ralph Bunche Middle School in Compton, California. Similarly to our La Tijera K-8 School events, we first introduced students to the field of geophysical fluid dynamics (GFD). We sought to teach students about the importance of models in studying science and, to this end, we showed how our assortment of rotating tanks can be used to illustrate aspects of GFD. Both the group experiments and individual DIY Rotating Tank experiments went great!


Sean provides a lecture on GFD and the use of models in studying science. Lecture slides can be found here.

LEGO Table Rotating Column

Katie and other members of the DIY Rotating Tank team demonstrate how rotating tanks are a simple yet effective tool for studying GFD. Among other experiments, students created a vertical column and learned how it mirrors the interior of rotating planets.

White Whale 1 White Whale 2

Juan provides a demonstration of the mechanical creation of vortices, a.k.a. the swirling patterns in the dye. When students dip their hands into the large rotating tank, the physical disturbance results in turbluence. Other sources of turbluence like the movement of heat can also generate vortices.

Square Table

Juan shows how an uneven temperature distribution can influence GFD. An ice bucket at the center of the tank and rotation result in the formation of vortices. This behavior reflects the weather patterns of the Earth’s middle latitudes. A video of this demonstration is available here.