Pop Can "Hero Engine"

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In this activity, learners build water-propelled engines from soft drink cans. Water flowing out of holes in the can cause the can to rotate in the direction opposite to the stream, explained by Newton's Third Law of motion. Learners can vary the size, angle, number, and placement of holes they make in each can. This engine simulates the original engine built by Hero of Alexandria thousands of years ago, though Hero's engine used steam instead of water flowing from the container. The instructions include background information, worksheets, and an extension to build a model of Hero's original engine. The behavior can be compared to how a rocket engine works.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 4 empty aluminum soft drink cans per team, with pull tabs intact
  • Carpenter’s nails of different sizes ( 6,12, 16D, etc.)
  • String (about 50 cm)
  • Water tub (large plastic storage tub, small kiddy pool, sink, etc.)
  • Water
  • Towels
  • Rulers
  • Stickers or bright permanent marker


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Mechanical Engineering
    • Technology
      • Transportation
  • Physical Sciences
    • Energy
      • Work and Machines
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
      • Newton's Laws
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History

Informal Categories

  • Historical Reenactment
  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • NASA; Shearer, Deborah ; Vogt, Gregory