There are lots of different kids of heat engines, from stirling engines to big jet turbines to the engine in your car. They all use clever ways to convert a temperature difference into motion.

Remember that the molecules in steam move around a lot faster than in an ice cube. So when we stick hot steam in a container, we can blow off the lid (used with pistons in a steam engine). or we can put a fan blade in hot steam, and since the molecules move around a lot, they start bouncing off the blade and cause it to rotate (as in a turbine). Or we can seal up hot steam in a container and punch a tiny hole out one end (to get a rocket).

One of the first heat engines was dreamed up by Hero of Alexandria called the aeolipile. The steam is enclosed in a vessel and allowed to jet out two (or more) pipes. Although we’re not sure if his invention ever made it off the drawing board, we do know how to make one for pure educational (and entertainment) purposes.  Are you ready to have fun?


Here’s what you do:

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8 Responses to “Hero Engine”

  1. The grocery store… any can should work for this experiment.

  2. Eunice LaCoy says:

    Where do you buy your soda from??

  3. Try it – see what happens! (That’s what science is all about!) 🙂 Remember, it’s the steam you want, and it doesn’t take much water to fill the can with steam.

  4. Rachel Moser says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to put the holes closer to the top so you can fill it with more fuel (water)? 😀

  5. You need a container that doesn’t melt (no plastic) and you can empty completely by piercing with two small holes (so tuna cans are out). Does that help?

  6. Elaine Deppe says:

    We don’t have any kind of soda can. Is there any other kind of can we can use?

  7. Debra Thomson says:

    Could you add three holes to the can to make it go faster?
    Holly Thomson