How To Break The Sound Barrier With A Ping Pong Ball

How To Break The Sound Barrier With A Ping Pong Ball


Getting students excited about science isn’t always easy, but having a live demonstration that uses ping pong balls traveling at supersonic speeds will get almost any kid’s attention. Mechanical engineering and technology students at Purdue University built a supersonic, air-powered cannon that shoots ping pong balls at speeds so fast they break the sound barrier. “We figured out it was coming out at about 919 miles an hour, and it was just mind-blowing,” said Craig Zehrung, a Ph.D. student at Purdue. That is faster than an F-16 fighter jet at low speeds. Drawing upon his experience in the air force, mechanical engineer Mark French designed the cannon and turned a mundane class in to a fun learning experience.“You shoot the gun, it makes this great big bang and the ball is in the barrel for, you know, milliseconds, and nobody thinks of ping pong balls as going very fast,” said French.

A vacuum pump sucks the air out of a sealed tube and air rushes into a special hourglass-shaped nozzle, just like those in F-16 engines. The nozzle accelerates the ball to supersonic speeds, propelling it with incredible momentum through wood, soda cans, and even denting steel.

“You can get really, really high accelerations, the ball comes out of the barrel intact and doesn’t break until it actually hits something,” said French.

Researchers were surprised by the supersonic speeds because the lightweight balls have poor aerodynamics. Despite their measly 2.3 grams, the balls delivered a startling amount of energy to targets: the equivalent of a 125 mile-per-hour fastball or a brick falling several stories.

“Obviously the main thing is how do we make it go faster, how we get more boom out of any device, right?” commented Zehrung.

The engineers do caution that this should not be done at home. It should only be done in a safe lab environment.

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 13 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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