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Priming the Pump


Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!

This web page is here to stimulate questions and support idea-generation for the Sailing Science Center's exhibits. It's intended to be used for our Brainstorming Night to help you get your creative juices flowing. First, some ground rules. The exhibits at the Sailing Science Center need to follow some guidelines. Here are the basics.


All exhibits should be:

  • Safe

  • Interactive

  • Fun, educational, engaging or otherwise interesting

  • Suitable to a wide range of ages

  • Appropriate to one of the seven galleries (see below)

  • Resistant to breakage, theft and vandalism

In order to come up with exhibit ideas it's helpful to start with questions the exhibits can answer. This  document provides a sampling of questions around which exhibits could be designed. Use these questions or come up with your own. You should think about what background science would be involved, but you don't have to know the science; we'll have experts for that. Also, think about what company, organization or individuals would be appropriate sponsors. Exhibits involving competition (either against benchmarks or other museum-goers) can be particularly compelling.

Like the seven seas, we will have seven galleries in the museum for different areas of interest. Exhibits should fit into an area of interest represented by one of these galleries. Here they are:

Sailing Science Center Galleries

  • Airflow (Aerodynamics), Sails & Sailing

  • Waves, Hull Resistance and Stability (Hydrodynamics and Hydrostatics)

  • Mechanical Advantage, Bio-Mechanics and Human Factors

  • Weather (Meteorology) and Oceanography

  • Navigation and Astronomy

  • Knots and Anchoring

  • Materials & Structures

Going from Questions to Exhibits

Exhibits should address an area of inquiry or answer a question. An example would be an exhibit to answer the question:

What's the best boat-building material?

An exhibit to help answer this question might consist of having identically-sized strips of carbon fiber laminate, fiberglass, steel, aluminum, oak, etc. Each strip could be clamped at one end to form a horizontal cantilever with the unsupported end next to a scale. The museum-goer could then place a weight on the end of the strip to see how much it deflects, thereby measuring its stiffness. A five-year-old could play with this, have fun, and learn something about the different materials. A college engineering student could read the supporting material about Young's Modulus, the Neutral Axis and Mohr's Circle. A good sponsor would be a boat-building company like J Boats or Beneteau.

You get the idea. Alright, here are the questions. Have fun!

Airflow (Aerodynamics), Sails & Sailing

How can a sailboat sail faster than the wind?

What is VMG (Velocity Made Good), and how can I get more of it?

Why does the wind whistle in the rigging? How fast does it have to go to do that?

How does a sail work?

How does a boat sail upwind?

How can you make a sail with a three-dimensional shape out of flat sheets of fabric?

What does sail fabric look like under a microscope? How about when it's stretching?

Why does the pressure in a fluid drop as its velocity increases?

What are laminar, turbulent, attached and separated fluid flow?

How is a sail shaped by pulling on its corners?

What causes weather helm?

What would the wind look like if we could see it?

Waves, Hull Resistance and Stability (Hydrodynamics and Hydrostatics)

How can a boat float if it's made out of cement?

What keeps boats from tipping over? And why do they still do it sometimes?

What is prop walk? What causes it?

What factors create resistance to a boat traveling through the water?

Why does a boat's bow wave come off at an angle of 19 degrees?

What is Computational Fluid Dynamics?

What are the different ways boats stay above water?

Mechanical Advantage, Bio-Mechanics and Human Factors

What's the best way to apply human energy to do mechanical work on a boat?

How does breathable fabric work on foul weather gear?

How steep does the deck have to be before my shoes start to slip?

How do some people "see" the wind?

What do different wind speeds sound/look/feel/smell like?

How can I tell where the wind is coming from?

How quickly can a person learn a new motion (like tying a knot) before it becomes automatic?

What's the best sandwich in the cafeteria?

What are some examples of how mechanical advantage is used on sailing vessels?

Weather (Meteorology) and Oceanography

Why does Angel Island sometimes cast a large wind shadow and other times the wind is very close to the leeward shore?

What would a time lapse video of the tides in Raccoon Strait look like?

What causes the weather?

How fast do waves travel?

What makes a wave break?

What causes hurricanes?

What is the Coriolis effect?

How does a barometer work?

How does a thermometer work?

Is moist air heavier or lighter than dry air?

What causes the tides?

Why are there two high tides and two low tides per day and not just one?

What causes counter-currents?

Why is it that just before a puff of wind there is usually a lull?

Navigation and Astronomy

How does celestial navigation work?

How does GPS work?

How can I tell if my boat is on a collision course with another boat?

How did sailors navigate before GPS?

How does current affect the time it takes a boat to get to it's destination?

How can you tell how far away you are from another boat without instruments?

Knots and Anchoring

How strong is a piece of rope?

How is rope made?

How do knots work? What is the "science" of knots?

How does an anchor work? How much load can it take?

How does an anchor's holding power change with scope (the length of the anchor rode)?

What's the best shape for an anchor?

How does a kellet work?

What is a catenary curve?

How much load will a dock line hold if I wrap it once around a cleat? Twice? Three times?

Materials & Structures

What's the best boat-building material?

Why is teak such a popular wood on boats?

Why do sailboats use wires to hold up their masts?

What are the chief structural considerations in designing sailboat hulls?

Why is a cored hull skin better than a solid hull skin?

What causes marine corrosion?

Why do boats use zinc anodes?

How strong is Carbon Fiber? Kevlar? Fiberglass? Steel? Aluminum? Etc.

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