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Soapy Surfer

This is perhaps the easiest “machine” to make in the book and is a dramatic demonstration of the effect of soap on water. EXTRAS: written instructions and the science of how the soapy surfer works can be found in this piece I wrote for BBC Focus Magazine. Click here for an article on why washing your hands with soap is better for killing viruses than using just water or alcohol-based wipes or handwashes. Below is a video I made with the Royal Institution in which the comedian Rufus Hound shows his son… Read more Soapy Surfer

Deep-Water Diver

If you build this just right, by getting the water bottle as full as possible, you can make the diver go down with a barely perceptible squeeze of the bottle, which then allows you to pretend you’re controlling the diver’s movement with the power of your mind… Putting a few marks on the bottle with a permanent marker might help you turn this into a game – can you get the diver to stop at a particular height? Build two of them and you can race someone else up and… Read more Deep-Water Diver

Vortex Cannon and Smoke-Ring Machine

Here’s another home-made version of something you can buy in the shops – the vortex cannon is great fun to play with, and has lots of scope for inventing games which require you to knock things over with a gust of air. As I show in the video, if you’ve got some incense, it’s easy to use the same device to make smoke-rings! See if you can make a big ring and then send a small ring flying through it… TOP TIP: If you don’t have a plastic bottle to… Read more Vortex Cannon and Smoke-Ring Machine

Bewildering Bean

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is a phrase known as Clarke’s Third Law, put forward by the science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in his book Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. This “bewildering bean” is about as far from “advanced” technology as you can get but, to the unsuspecting observer, it genuinely looks like magic. TOP TIP: I didn’t do this in the video, but colouring in the bean template before making it is another way to make this activity… Read more Bewildering Bean

Rubber-band Racer

This may be my favourite “make” from the book – as I explain in the video, I love that you can take scrap materials and make a “pull back” car, like the ones you can buy from a shop, and see exactly how it works. I’ve seen young children make these and witnessed their joy when they get theirs working – the same as mine when I first made one and, in fact, every time I’ve made one since, because it’s just so satisfying. EXTRAS: If you liked making this car,… Read more Rubber-band Racer

Soaring Cylinder

My four-year old daughter has recently mastered the art of throwing a paper airplane, and it can keep her occupied for ages. She’s not quite ready to fold her own airplanes, but she enjoys decorating the ones I make for her. I’m guessing most parents know how to make a basic paper airplane but this “soaring cylinder” is something that fewer people are familiar with. It’s incredibly easy to make but, as I point out in the video, it’s not straightforward to get it flying. It’s absolutely worth making the… Read more Soaring Cylinder

Balancing Bird

The “balancing bird” is a delightful toy you can buy, but it’s much more fun, cheaper, and better for the environment to make your own! If you like this, there are LOTS more toys you can make at home in my book Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines. TEACHERS This is a great activity to do to when teaching about moments and centre of gravity. EXTRAS: If you enjoyed making the balancing bird, you could try making other shapes that balance, like a butterfly or the spaceship designed by the brilliant Sai Pathmanathan in… Read more Balancing Bird

Mini Mangonel

Catapults are fun! This “mini mangonel” is a really simple, safe design that was invented by my friend Jonathan Sanderson as part of his work for the University of Northumbria’s engineering outreach team, NUSTEM. I was delighted they allowed me to use this for Mr Shaha’s Marvellous Machines because it perfectly fitted in with my aim of having “machines” in the book which were easy to make and left lots of room for children to “tinker“, and develop them into something better for themselves. TOP TIP: If you don’t have… Read more Mini Mangonel