Science Master Special A Push-Pull Meter

Many years ago I and my class made a Push-Pull Meters with dowel rod and a cotton reels and had great fun with them, measuring all sorts of pushes and pulls.OK we could have used conventional force meters, the school had enough of them for class use, however making one yourself and then using it seems to make a big difference in understanding.

A recent question made me look for my plans – no chance. Search the internet – no luck. My team were of no help so I therefore decided to do the obvious thing, make one myself.

These are the drawings of my endeavours. The equipment list is cotton reel (wooden would be nice but if it’s plastic ok), a length of dowel rod with a diameter which will allow it to pass through the central hole of the cotton reel, an elastic band (probably 4 cm long but have a set of them for experimentation), a paperclip which is opened up to make a hook, some drawing pins or sellotape …….and I think thats it.

Once constructed the next task it to calibrate it. If you have access to a set of weights, great. you can create a little bag which will hold them, hang it on the hook and away you go. A 1kg mass will apply a 1 Newton force on the elastic band. This is where the choice of the elastic band is important – a thin band is obviously much more sensitive than a thick band. On the other hand, why not make up your own scale of push a pulls – a five marble/ 3 marble/1 marble push or pull. Below are the images that I created for my answer to the 10 yr olds question.


How does the wind manage to topple things like wheely bins over? With the bins being big objects how is this possible? asks Imran (10)


A useful place to start Imran would be to look at the way in which wind is can exert a very strong force. Wind is created by the Sun warming up the ground around us and the air. Sorry team, I don’t think the wind does much pulling.

Air is made up of tiny molecules. When molecules are heated, they move faster. As they move faster they become become spaced farther apart, which makes the air less dense (meaning that there are fewer molecules in a given volume). This also means that the air has a lower overall pressure (pressure is the push of the gas on it’s surroundings. In comparison, cold air is made of more tightly packed molecules, and so it is denser and has relatively higher pressure.

The warmer, lower pressure air begins to move upwards and therefore it creates space below it which is filled by the colder higher pressure air. A wind is created. The hotter the air near the surface of the Earth the lower the pressure and the faster the rise. The 2017 hurricanes were caused by the hot sea and hot temperatures near the surface.

Can you measure how much push (force) is needed to push over a wheely bin?  Let’s first make our own push-pull measurer. You will need an elastic band, cotton reel, a couple of drawing pins, some sellotape and a paper clip to make your own measurer.

You can use it directly to measure pushes and pulls just by seeing how far the cotton reel moves up the dowel rod. It would however be better if we calibrated the rod in some way. In the images below the rod has been calibrated in Newtons (theses are the units of force). To do this a 500 gramme mass was attached to the hook. It is known that a 500g mass will exert a force (pull) of 1/2 Newton. So when the mass is attached, the elastic band will stretch, and the dowel rod will be pulled down. The distance on the rod between the ‘no’ force point and the 500g point is therefore equivalent to half a Newton.

It is estimated that an 80 mph wind would have a push of about 400 Newtons per square metre and be able to move a car. A breeze 5 mph might have a push of between 5-10N per square metre. You could try your meter on a sheet of cardboard in a strong breeze and see what you get.

Imran your question was very interesting to answer and you might have some difficulty in understanding some of the stuff above. If that is the case and also for anybody else reading this PLEASE ask another question or make a Comment.

Mariah (7) asks “Why are pushes and pulls forces?”

Thanks team and thanks Mariah for the question.  My team are quite correct there are lots of pushes and pulls. Can you think of more? What about gravity? That pulls things to the ground. What about the wind, that pushes things.

In science and in our daily life we put things into groups. The things in the group all have something in common. All fish are grouped together, they can all breathe underwater. Can you see anything else they have in all fish have which is the same?
All bicycles are grouped together, they all have two wheels. They also have some other things in common (the same).

If all forces are grouped together , they all involve pushes and pulls. The group that pushes and pulls is called forces.

“If I was sucked into a black hole what would make me die?” asked James (12)

James, thank you for your question. I had a similar question from  Sheereen  click here to see my, and my friends answer.

It is thought that a ‘black hole’ is produced when a rather large star comes to the end of it’s life. It collapses in on itself and forms an object of incredibly concentrated matter. As ‘gravity’ is a property of the quantity of matter (see my answer to Ernie’s question) the collapse causes an immense increase in the gravity from the  smaller collapsed star.  

It is unlikely that our Sun would end in this way as it is classified as a smallish star. It is likely to become something called a ‘Red Dwarf’ star.

The ‘black hole’ is explained by the fact that this concentration of gravity ‘pulls’ light into it, thus the ‘hole’.

Now if you were close to the collapsed star in your spaceship you would also be pulled into it and unfortunately be added to the mass of the collapsed star. Sorry, you will be crushed.

(slightly revised 20/4/2016)

“Why can heavy things float”? ask Aiden (10)


Aiden, great question,a difficult answer. I hope that you have investigated which things float and which things sink. You should be able to look around you and say ‘That floats’ and ‘That sinks”. Think about this – when something sinks it seems to be breaking the surface of the water. What is it breaking? I pass this back to my team.

The attractive forces between water molecules are called intermolecular forces. Look at this post to find out more.  When the much bigger metal boat hits the water, because of it’s design (spread out) there are lots more water particles that push on the boat and keep it floating.  Squash the boat up into a small lump of metal  and drop it into the water. What do you think will happen? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.



Mattheiu (Yr 4) asked “If sound can’t travel through vacuums, why are they so loud?”


This is an excellent question. We are told that sound travels through the air to us by the vibrations of the air molecules between speaker and listener. But how does is get to us from a very distant speaker? Or through a vacuum? The magic formula is that one form of energy can be converted to another form of energy, as my team have explained.

If we can convert one form of energy to another then why not convert sound, which is moving air and therefore kinetic energy (the energy of movement) to electrical energy that can be passed down a wire or through a vacuum as an electromagnetic wave to a listener a long way away. When it is received the reverse conversion process can take place where the electrical energy can be converted back to kinetic energy, via electromagnetics and loudspeakers and not forget ears and brain.  Then by controlling the input to the conversion process we can control the loudness. Magic but real.

See my Science Master Special on Energy

Any reader can ask another question or leave a Comment in the Leave a Reply box below

“What is the difference between speed and velocity” asks Sayed(11)

Absolutely right my friends. The two cars have the same speed but they are going in the opposite direction so their velocities are different.

An interesting example of the difference between
speed and velocity is when you look at an object moving at a certain speed in a circle. The speed is constant BUT the velocity is constantly changing as the object moves around the circle, see V1 and V2. The velocity at 1 is drawn as a line (representing the speed) pointing in the direction V1. This is a ‘vector’.

Sayed – this site is mainly directed at 8-13 yr olds so the answer above is very ‘general’. I have published it because younger readers might be interested in the difference between the two terms …for more information visit this site.




“If I do a headstand will my brain get too much blood?” asks Susan (8)

Susan , I asked my friends about your question and this was their thoughts.

Thanks team, some interesting thoughts. Firstly let’s confirm that it is the heart that pumps the blood around our bodies. In a normal situation the heart is strong enough to pump the blood up to our head, so it might find it easier to pump the blood to our head when we are upside down. Any idea why? Think of gravity.

When you are doing a headstand the heart will not need to fight gravity to get the blood to your head, so it might find it a bit easier. It does however still need to get the blood to your feet (which are now above your heart) but it is strong enough to do this.

There might be some visible signs in the way the blood circulation changes. If blood has a little difficulty getting to the feet they might go a little pale. If the blood does not leave the head as quickly as usual, the face might go a little red. You might also get a change in the pulse rate if the heart has to work harder. These can all be tested with a healthy volunteer.

(edited 19/01/2017)

Abdul (10) asked “Why do heavy things fall faster than light things?

Abdul, a great question. I can remember asking this question to a class of 9yr olds. Our investigations started by dropping a sheet of A4 paper and timing how quickly it reached the floor. We had to make the test fair and then recorded our answers. We then all screwed up our piece of A4 paper and then predicted how long it would take to drop the same distance, again making sure the test was fair.

Several in the class said that the results of the test was unfair, because the sheet of paper had been made heavier. A mass balance proved that was not the case. So why had the screwed up ball of paper fallen faster? Your thoughts please.

So how can we test if heavier things fall faster than light things? Is it true or not true? What things do we need to change and what things do we need to make sure are the same. We need a fair test. Let me know your answers.

Ratterson asks -‘What is Newton’s third law of motion?’

Hello Ratterson. I am real, so that is my first answer. I have my own thoughts on Newton’s third law , but firstly I will ask my friends to think about it.


Thanks team. I think I agree. When somebody fires a gun the bullet is pushed forwards and the gun is pushed backwards, the forces are equal and opposite. I can remember a little experiment that I once carried out. I sat on a trolley with lots of sandbags on it. one by one I threw the sandbags of the trolley and the trolley began to move! And it moved faster and faster as I continued to throw the sandbags off it. I was forcing the sandbags in one direction and I was being pushed in the opposite direction.