Properties of Matter

Dogged Drifter

Enrichment Activity for 5-11 11-14

What you need

  • A ping-pong ball
  • A plastic cup
  • Water


  1. Fill the cup almost full and float the ping-pong ball on it – it should be impossible to stop it drifting to the rim
  2. Add more water until the cup almost overflows and the surface is raised. Now you should be able to keep the ball in the centre, though it looks unstable

Results and Explanation

The water’s surface tension pulls down on the ball but water is also attracted to it and climbs up its sides. Overall the pull is diagonally down.
Near the rim, the water between ball and rim flattens, so the overall pull is towards the rim. But in a bulging cup, the water’s surface is almost vertical at the rim, so the overall force pulls the ball to the centre.

These experiments have not been specifically safety tested for home use but we believe them to be safe if the instructions are followed. Adult supervision or direction is recommended as appropriate. All experiments are carried out at your own risk.

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