Learn about science with a real-world example

As a science tutor I always hope my students will learn about science by asking questions and looking at the real world. This week I decided to raise the bar a little bit.

The video below was filmed in Rome, Italy. I walked around these guys in a complete circle. I still couldn't figure out how they were able to "levitate." Then I realized there was a simple scientific explanation.

Occasionally scientists have become famous by figuring out a simple explanation to a confusing phenomenon. Darwin's theory of evolution is a classic example. I want my students to think like this, and I realized that this video is an opportunity to learn about science.

You might also win a $50 iTunes gift card, but I'll let you watch the video first:

When you're trying to learn about science, it's useful to think about what you already know. In this case, you know that the force of gravity is roughly 9.8 meters per second squared (9.8m/s^2) times the mass of an object.

The "object" we are concerned about here is the man who is "levitating" above the other man. Let's assume the guy on top has 100 kilograms of mass. That means he is exerting a force of 9.8m/s^2 times 100 kg, which equals 980 kg*m/s^2 or 980 Newtons.

That is a lot of force for another man to hold in one bent arm, but the situation gets even worse. You'll notice in the video that the man on the bottom is using only his fingers to grip the bamboo pole. Even with sufficient muscular strength in his arm, the pole itself would slide down from the lack of friction holding it up.

So we have a seemingly impossible magic trick. Or do we? There is clearly a way to create the effect that you see in this video. Can you figure out how it was done?

I hope this contest will help you learn about science. Post your answer in the "comments" below. If you're the first one to get it right, I'll email you and send you your gift certificate. If nobody gets the right answer by April 2nd, 2013, then the contest is over.

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