Bowling Ball, Feather, and Reproving the Laws of Physics
Here at Nomad Press, we are total science nerds. But even we sometimes wonder: why do people do the same experiments over and over after someone else has already proved a point?
Take, for example, Galileo’s famous drop from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (which might or might not have actually happened). Legend says he climbed 296 steps to release two balls of the same size and different masses and expected the heavier one to reach the ground first.
Actually, there’s no evidence this exact experiment ever happened. We do know that young Galileo was a teacher in Pisa and he did perform experiments with gravity. We know that he was surprised when the two balls hit the ground at nearly the same moment, proving that the rate of motion is the same for all objects, regardless of mass.
And now, more than 400 years later, we’re still fascinated (and some of us are always a little surprised) when the two objects of different masses reach the ground at the same time. Maybe that’s because we rarely get a chance to see this phenomenon in everyday life. Air resistance is such a constant companion in our atmospheric world that it affects the fall of any objects we happen to drop.
Still, though, we know that objects of different masses fall at the same rate, even if we don’t see it very often. So is there any reason to keep testing the laws of physics?
When science project season comes around to middle schools all over the country, it’s always fun to see the sameness of the projects, year after year. Will deflated soccer balls travel further than full ones? Can gerbils be taught to run a maze? Do plants prefer classical music or heavy metal? It’s rare to spot an experiment that hasn’t been done before.
On the one hand, it might be disheartening to see the same science projects every year. Where’s the creativity and innovation?! But it’s not disheartening. Maybe because what’s also the same is the look of discovery on the faces of young scientists. Sure, we know with our brains that a bowling ball and a feather will hit the ground at the same time if there’s no air resistance, but seeing it happen is quite a different thing.
And that’s why we keep creating moments for it to happen: on the moon, in special airless chambers, and in the virtual world. Because seeing is a whole new world of believing.