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My Nine Year Old's Science Project...Why does ski wax make skis go faster?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
My nine year old posed the question...Why does ski wax make skis go faster?...for her fourth grade science project.

She understands friction. She understands humidity and the effects.

I need a better understanding of what makes the different hydrocarbons, well different, and why one works better than another based on temperature (primarily). In other words, why is a harder wax better for colder temperatures? Is it simply durability? Is the chemical composition different?

Also, how does the wax composition relate to snow crystals being sharp or rounded and it this just a question of structure?

I plan to talk to her about additives like moly and how these relate to impurities, and I understand cold weather and the relationship with static but why is there static at cold weather...is it a humidity issue?

To sum it up...

How do I explain to a nine year old how hydrocarbons are different and why this relates to temperature?

Where does the static in cold situations come from?

Does snow crystal sharpness determine wax choice and why?

We already created a cool diagram with a stick figure skier going down a hill and labeled it with gravity, mass, friction, drag...kind of the why wax at all.

I have raced for years and we all wax because we know what works and when...but when a nine year old asks why on top of why...as in "why do you wax with the expensive stuff when it is warm outside"...and I say, because there is a lot of humidity in the snow...and she replies, "but why does that wax work better when the snow is more humid?" That's when I say...lets get some ice cream!!! But now it is school and a different story.
post #2 of 16

Your daughter (well maybe you) are in luck - all of these questions are addressed in great detail in a new article posted on the the web site of the new Epic sponsor, Dominator wax.     http://dominatorwax.com/technical-education Ski Wax Demystified

 

Now your job is translating the technical paper to 4th grade.

post #3 of 16
all right vsirin wink.gif !! you beat me to it smile.gif it really is a great read!

zenny
post #4 of 16

@ hexagenia

 

You are even luckier than vsirin thinks, I have watched Thanos give clinics to J4’s and J5’s (they are actually his favorite audiences) and he uses some simple visuals to demonstrate friction. But first I want to correct something you said: Static does not only form in the cold, you have electrostatic friction every time you slide on snow. As a matter of fact, you generate a charge even when an ice cube moves in a glass of water. Now, to the science project:

 

Snow friction is the sum of dry friction, wet friction, electrostatic friction and, on dirty snow, friction from dirt. To demonstrate you will need half a dozen clean Plexiglas scrapers, you can buy a large piece cheaply and cut it down.

 

To demonstrate dry friction, rub two scrapers together, the kids already know that there is resistance. Spray some WD40 on one of them, now you have explained lubrication

 

Get two new scrapers, rub a fluoro block or some fluoro powder on one side of one of them . Now wet the other scraper and put the two together NOT using the fluoro treated side to make that water “sandwich”.  Try to slide them against each other, it’s really hard to do. Now hold only the top one, the bottom will not fall. Explain that the film of water has strength, it wants to stay together. Flip the fluoro treated scraper so that the treated side is used to make the water “sandwich”.  Put the two scrapers together, they slide easily against each other, now you have demonstrated the effect of fluoro waxes.

 

Get two new scrapers, rub them together fast and with light pressure, after a while they start sticking to each other. Now hold only the top one, the bottom will not fall. You have demonstrated electrostatic friction. Get some dry graphite power lubricant from a hardware store, put just a little between the two scrapers and rub again, they slide easily and don’t stick together, you have now demonstrated the effect of antistatic additives.

 

Take any of the two scrapers you used before put a little peanut butter or a piece of used chewing gum on one of them, the two scrapers will stick together. You have now demonstrated the effect of sticky dirt like pollen.

 

All of the above put together make a cool video demonstration for a science project.

 

Now you can move to the deck of cards model described on our site, it will make a lot more sense to them.  Use two decks of cards, one will have to be destroyed as you will have to drive a nail through it.

 

Now you have the answers, but you should still take her out for ice cream!

post #5 of 16
awesome, domtom!! p.s. any possibility of a racer deal on some dominator?? lol wink.gif

zenny
post #6 of 16

@ Zentune

 

 

We have all sorts of offers for teams, instructors and racers, often through our e-tailers, sometimes directly. We also plan to have special offers to Epic members, one of them will be announced very soon. Feel free to pm or call me at 801 876 7807 and we can discuss your details.

post #7 of 16
great, dom tom !

zenny
post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks for everything...we are working on it now. She wants to do a timeline of the history of wax. Tests on skis with different waxes with results. A diagram explaining gravity, drag and friction. She also wants to discuss pollutants and static...

I'll take a picture of it when she is done. She needs to put it all on a poster board. I'll post it in the thread.

Fourth grade...so the process is really what is important, but really cool that she decided to pick this as her subject.

I sit on the board of a local youth race team and the kids have raced for several years...all good stuff, but the real cool thing is my kids (8 and 9) were on the hill, skiing with their friends, for seven hours on Saturday...bombing and jumping, bombing and jumping...I'd yell from the chair to throw in a turn every once in a while...they pretend they don't know me. Great family sport. They'd do it evry day

BTW - two years ago I posted about fund raising ideas so we could build a tow rope on our race hill. We have a chair but we need a tow for more runs for the kids. Update: the tow should be in within weeks and is fully funded by private donations. Two years and $25,000 later.

Support youth skiing...
post #9 of 16

History of wax?? How far back does she want to go? There may be some useful information in this SKI magazine article.

 

 

1000

post #10 of 16
post #11 of 16

My two cents are that too many "science" projects turn into more like a book or research report.  

 

At least in my day, the focus was back to the scientific method where you go through the "scientific method" and do a experiment to get a primary and original result; and going through the process and really answering a question with different possibilities, and seeing your own results and observations, even if your experiment failed. 

This was more important than the the research on other people's material or "demo'ing a concept that you already know to be true.

 

 

Think mythbusters rather then physics professor lecture.

 

 

Check with her and see what focus her teacher wanted.

 
 
I can imagine the real question is to find out if the different waxes really make a difference.
If you can obtain some ptex to stick onto a weighted wood block or something that can simulate a ski.  Then prepare the ski simulators differently depending on the various ski preparations you want to vary.  The other variable is the snow/weather conditions.
 
Then you need a method to measure the friction of these on snow.  My first thought is something similar to the stimp meter for golf-  basically a ramp that goes to a flat section, then you can measure how far they glide.  
 
If you want to have this as an demonstratable controlled test, and not subject to the variables of having to do your experiment on the slopes or weather.  
 
I imagine you will need to put your ramp into a closed box, that you can temperature control to simulate your different snow conditions. The really cold temps will be harder to simulate, unless you get to liquid nitrogen or maybe dryice blocks to make your box cooler then the temp of your ice blocks.     Mythbusters I imagine would get in touch with a freezer truck that they could use for the day.  You also need snow you would simulate by just blending up ice.  For more data you'd prepare different types of snow as well.
 
That's how I'd imagine the mythbusters would make the episode, which is what would get my adult interest if i happened to be perusing the science fair (and probably a high grade). 
:)
 
Yes all this adds up to a big project, and perhaps this scale is something in middle or high school rather than 4th grade, but really this is the scale which I think would really tests and answers a question and impress the teachers.
 
When I was in 8th grade, some classmates did do experiments close to this scale to really test something complex out; and did include reaching out for help to certain specialized areas of the community for special resources (liquid nitrogen, microscope with camera recording capabilities, etc).

Edited by raytseng - 1/7/13 at 10:52pm
post #12 of 16

@ hexagenia

 
History of wax, excerpted from the tech manual vsirin referenced earlier. How is that working out for you? :-)
 

 

 
 

 

 

 

post #13 of 16

You could control the temperature of an experiment by doing it outside on warmer days and colder days. Or choose a sunny day when the temperature is going to be significantly different from early the the morning to mid afternoon. With a suitable location you could do it with skis. Disable the skibrake and launch the ski down a shallow slope with a flat runout and see how far it gets. Obvioously you would need to make sure that speeds didn't get too high to be dangerous, but that's just a question of choosing a suitable slope. There would of course be some variation from run to run, but that's all part of learning about scientific methods. Do a number of trials with each wax type and take the average. You would need a number of identical skis, but I bet she could borrow a few rental pairs if it was for a school science project :-)

 

Much more fun to do the experiement in the field with real skis than in a laboratory! It's probably easier as well. The only problem I can forsee is that the weight on the ski would be mcuh less that a realistic skiing situation. Whether that might affect the results, I'm not sure. In fact a good skier ought to be able to do a fairly repeatable experiment actually skiing. If you did that you could also introduce the concept of experimental blinding  - i.e. after preparing the skis, one of you randomises the experiment and the other does the glide test without knowing which wax is on which pair of skis.

 

Mark

post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 
OK..project is due tomorrow and thanks for all the help...

It turned out great...
post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by hexagenia View Post

OK..project is due tomorrow and thanks for all the help...

It turned out great...

      Great!!!  Looks ready to snow there.....

post #16 of 16

Good. Now we need to talk about you doing your kid's homework.

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