Shrinking Cups

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This is a quick activity (on page 2 of the PDF under Gecko Feet Activity) about the forces of gravity and surface tension and how their behavior is influenced by size. Learners will fill a normal sized cup and a tiny cup with water, predict what will happen when the cups are flipped upside down, and then test their predictions. This activity introduces learners to how different physical forces and material properties dominate at the nanoscale. Also related to linked video, DragonflyTV Nano: Gecko Feet.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • regular teacup
  • tiny teacup (from a dollhouse)
  • objects in between (e.g., thimble, cap from toothpaste, cap from a soda bottle)
  • pan of water


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
      • Size and Scale
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Bonding
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • About Inquiry
      • Conducting Investigations


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • DragonflyTV


  • All rights reserved, Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., 2008

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 741749