Dr. Castellini recreates a tornado during a virtual tour of MSI Chicago's Science Storms exhibit

Learn about natural phenomena by making your very own tornado-in-a-bottle experiment with your family.

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
02/17/2021

If you're missing exploring museums this winter, it may be the perfect time to try some at-home science experiments and virtual visits with the whole family. Recently, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) opened its doors for a virtual livestreamed tour of the 26,000-square-foot Science Storms exhibit, which highlights the remarkable processes that underlie natural phenomena like lightning, sunlight, fire, and avalanches. MSI senior exhibit developer Dr. Olivia Castellini led the tour and followed it up with a captivating demonstration for making your own model tornado in a bottle.

 

For aspiring scientists who were unable to attend, the MSI created a video and a downloadable PDF showing how to recreate this showstopping physics experiment at home.

 

 

With a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Dr. Castellini regularly translates complex scientific topics into easy-to-understand terms, appearing on programs like Good Morning America, The Weather Channel, and Oprah's Lifeclass. Her virtual tour of the MSI drew in science enthusiasts of all ages to learn how she and her team created Science Storms. During the livestream, viewers had a chance to discover the science fundamentals behind wondrous weather events like tsunamis, rainbows, and tornadoes, and Dr. Castellini stuck around afterward for an in-depth Q&A. You can check it all out on the video before grabbing your materials for a tornado in a bottle.

 

This physics lesson is as fun as it is enlightening. The only materials you'll need to try it are two plastic two-liter bottles, duct tape, a washer, and water, with the option of a few drops of food coloring for added effect.

 

Dr. Castellini will demonstrate exactly how to make meteorological magic by filling one bottle two-thirds full with water, placing the washer over the bottle's opening, then putting the other bottle upside down atop the washer and duct-taping them together. To activate the model tornado, simply turn it upside down and swirl in a counter-clockwise motion.

 

As the water pours from one bottle into the other, it creates a vortex: an area where flowing liquid or air revolves around an axis, creating a funnel shape. The movement of the water is similar to how air moves in a tornado in nature.

 

It's the perfect science experiment for friends and families with little ones to do for an afternoon of learning and fun together, especially if it's been a while since you could explore a museum like MSI Chicago in person. And by doing it yourselves at home, you'll never forget the science behind this amazing natural phenomenon.