First, to ‘abhor’ something is to dislike it very much, so nature does not like vacuums! Second, the type of vacuum we are talking about is not just the kind you find in your house for cleaning floors. When we speak of a vacuum in this way, we are talking about a space devoid of all matter. That means the vacuum is a space where there is literally no (or almost no) atoms—not even air! (Remember, air is made up of molecules of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and others. In a vacuum, there are none of these molecules either, so there is no air.)
It is almost impossible to remove ALL matter from any area, even in outer space, which is as close to a true vacuum as can be, having an average of only a few atoms per cubic meter, according to Takadoro in a 1968 paper in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan. On Earth producing a vacuum is even more difficult, with the best vacuum chambers achieving about 100 particles per cubic centimeter, according to Gabrielse in a 1990 paper published in Physical Review Letters. Compare this to air at atmospheric pressure, which contains 3.369 X 1025 molecules per cubic meter (that’s essentially a 3 with 26 zeros behind it)!
For instance, if we take an empty plastic water bottle and leave it in the sun with its cap off, the air inside the bottle will heat up. This means the air molecules will be further apart, and some will leave the bottle. If we then put the cap back on the bottle, and put the bottle in the freezer for five minutes, the air will cool down and the molecules will move closer together. This forms a partial vacuum, because there will be fewer molecules per cubic centimeter in the bottle than on the outside of the bottle (remember, some of them left the bottle when it heated up in the sun). Because of this partial vacuum, the sides of the bottle will cave in!
We can also use partial vacuums like this to do an age-old trick—pulling a hard-boiled egg into a bottle!
Here’s what you’ll need:
1. A hard-boiled egg, peeled (extra large eggs work well).
2. A glass bottle with a mouth just a little narrower than the egg. A 1 liter Erlenmeyer flask works very well.
3. Strips of paper, about 6 inches long by 1 inch wide.
4. Matches or a lighter
Here’s what to do:
1. Carefully set one of the pieces of paper on fire, and drop it into your Erlenmeyer flask.
2. Allow about three seconds to pass—count to three slowly.
3. Place the egg on the mouth of the flask, narrow end down. The egg may jump around a little. This is because hot gasses are still escaping from the flask.
4. You should see the flame on the paper go out; then watch as the egg is pulled into the bottle!
Why does this happen? It happens for the same reason that the water bottle’s sides cave in when put in the freezer. The flame heats up the air in the flask, allowing some of the molecules to escape (making the egg jump around on top of the flask at first). When the flame goes out the air starts to cool, and the air molecules get closer together, forming a partial vacuum. This partial vacuum pulls the egg into the bottle!
So, what else could you try this with? How about balloons? Jell-O? Get creative! But always be sure to write down everything you do, and all your observations!
References for further reading:
Tadokoro, M. (1968). "A Study of the Local Group by Use of the Virial Theorem". Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan 20: 230.
Gabrielse, G., et al. (1990). "Thousandfold Improvement in Measured Antiproton Mass". Phys. Rev. Lett. 65 (11): 1317.
Campbell, Jeff (2005). Speed cleaning. p. 97.