You Need to Weigh Water. You Only Got One Paper Clip


Let’s assume it’s you you have to measure a lot of water, and you want to provide a measure to do this. But you are in a normal house full of normal stuff. There is no fancy science equipment. Can you make it into a typical household item?

I think it’s possible, and I’ll try it – with a paper clip.

OK, but why? It started my job as a technical consultant for the CBS show MacGyver. My job is to investigate the scientific rationale for various hacks and sometimes suggest ways to get MacGyver out of a difficult situation. One of the favorite things to use with MacGyver is a paper clip – so I thought I’d see how many things I could make out of them.

So far, I’ve been able to make cool gadgets based on paper clips.

It’s just fun to make complicated things out of core parts – it’s the MacGyver way.

Now for the scales. It’s as simple, but with the coming along of graphing it might be more appropriate as a blog post rather than a video. We will do it.

Remember, the purpose here is to measure a lot of water. Since we are here on Earth, there is always a correlation between weight and weight-so technically we measure the weight of water. What is the difference between mass and weight? Here is my full explanation, but the short answer is that mass is the amount of matter (proton, neutron, electron) an object is made of and gravity is the maximum energy given to the Earth.

So, how do you measure weight? It turns out that most of our measuring tools are actually for distance measurement. (It’s true-see.) In this case, we can determine the weight (and thus the quantity) of an object by resisting the rotation of a paper clip, or how large the bend is. If you straighten a paper clip with a long wire, the more one end is pushed, the more it bends. However, if it is inserted into the usual shape of the paper clip, it is more difficult to fold. This is very similar to the force required to stretch a spring, which is much harder to deform than a straight wire. However, for an ideal spring, the length spacing is equally proportional to the stretching force, and that may not be true with a bent paper clip.

So the idea is that if we flatten our paper clip, we can make it a lever arm that will help us weigh our water.

Let’s build this thing. Here’s what I have.

Photo: Rhett Allain



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