As Light as Air

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Learners measure a bottle full of air, and then use a vacuum pump to remove the air. When they re-weigh the bottle, learners find the mass is about 0.8g less. Through this activity, learners understand that air has mass and volume, the two properties which define matter.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per student

Age Range:
Ages 11 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per student)

  • One electronic balance with a large balance pan, 0.1-g precision, and at least 300-g capacity (Ohaus, Scout SC6010 balance works well)
  • 20 plastic coffee-stirring straws
  • One 250-ml plastic beaker
  • One 2-L heavy-duty plastic bottle
  • One 1-hole rubber stopper to fit the plastic bottle
  • One 2-way valve with two male ends to fit the plastic tubing and 1- hole rubber stopper
  • 1 ft of plastic tubing (about 7 mm in diameter)
  • One Nalgene 36-cc hand vacuum pump with a gauge (keep one extra on hand)
  • One small ring stand
  • One ring stand clamp
  • Vacuum grease


  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • States of Matter
      • Gases
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
      • Volume and Density


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation