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This week I am actually going to be making something that does not require electricity. Although, you may be able to fool people into thinking it does. We are going to be making Heron’s fountain out of common household materials. This is a really easy build and would be a perfect project for to build with your kids. Maybe you could even sneak in a lesson on fluid dynamics or perpetual motion?

Heron (Hero) of Alexandria was a mathematician and an inventor. He is well known for his steam engine, the Aeolipile, and many other inventions that use pneumatics. (wikipedia) I am going to try and recreate one of my favorite inventions by Heron, the “Heron Fountain”.

Total cost of build = $2 (you can scavenge the 3 water bottles)

What You need: Supplies

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(3) 16.9 FL OZ Water bottles (I used Dasani)
(1) 9″ length of tubing
(1) 11″ length of tubing
(1) 15″ length of tubing
Small amount of clay (Play-Doh)

Note: The tubing is for aquariums and is 3/16″ thin wall rigid tubing. Almost any tubing would work, even flexible, but the rigid makes it really easy. I was able to pick some up at a local pet supply store for about $0.50 per foot.

What you need: Tools and equipment

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Scissors
Drill (hand or electric powered)
5/32″ drill bit (slightly smaller than the tubing diameter)

Step 1: Make the fountains’ reservoir

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Cut (1) of the bottles in half as pictured. Keep the bottom of the bottle, you can use it to fill the fountain when we are all done.

Step 2: Drilling the holes

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You are going to need (2) holes in each cap. Start by drilling the (2) holes in (1) cap, use a piece of scrap wood to support the cap.

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When you are done with the first cap, use it as a guide to drill (2) holes into the top of the remaining (2) caps. You can place the caps top-to-top when drilling the holes. Now you should have (3) caps, each with (2) holes drilled in about the same location.

Step 3: Drilling the holes Part 2

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Take one of the caps and use it as a guide to drill (2) holes in the bottom of one of the remaining intact bottles. This will end up being bottle {b} as in the diagram below.

Step 5: Connect the tubing

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Connect the tubing as in the above diagram. All connections should be airtight. If you used the 5/32 drill bit they should be. If not, just add a small amount of clay (Play-Doh) to seal the openings around the tubing. I had to seal the area between bottle {a} & {b}. You can see it in the first picture. The other connections didn’t leak and I did not use any clay.

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Note: Make sure the tubing is at the proper heights in each bottle. These heights are Very Important.

Step 6: Add water and enjoy

Now all you have to do is fill bottle {b} with water and screw the whole system together. To start your fountain, add water to the upper bottle {a}. Enjoy your homemade Heron’s Fountain.

Marc de Vinck

I’m currently working full time as the Dexter F. Baker Professor of Practice in Creativity in the Masters of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship Program at Lehigh University. I’m also an avid product designer, kit maker, author, father, tinkerer, and member of the MAKE Technical Advisory board.


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Comments

  1. dnny says:

    Thanks for doing this, its really nice.
    I would like to know if its possible to do in bigger scale and I´m also interested on a litle, “how the herons fountain works” article.

  2. DU says:

    I actually made one of these once before. Hero(n) is awesome.

    I’m glad to see the Make blog is going to have projects now.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      We are glad too! We have always had projects, but I think you will be seeing a lot more.

  3. Dax says:

    >I´m also interested on a little, “how the herons fountain works” article.

    It works like this:

    Water from bottle A travels down the green tube to bottle C thus increasing air pressure in bottle C

    This forces air from bottle C up the purple tube into bottle B increasing the pressure inside bottle B

    This pressure in bottle B forces water up the orange tube, out the top of the fountain before landing back in bottle A

    The reason this works is the height the water falls from bottle A to bottle C is greater than the height it travels up the orange tube from bottle B to A

    Please note that even though it appears at first glance that the fountain will run forever, in reality once bottle B pumps all of it’s water out up in to the air, then down into bottle C the fountain will stop. At no time does water enter bottle B during operation, only leaves it.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      @Dax

      You got it, thanks for the great explanation!

  4. Scott says:

    Why does the green tube have to go clear to the bottom? Would it not work if it were shorter (just inside the top of bottle C)?

    Guess I ought to make one and find out.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      @Scott,

      I am not exactly sure why, that is just what I found during my research. You should make one and try it out at different levels. Unfortunately, mine got recycled at American Maker in Chicago. If you do make one, please let me know what you find, Thanks!

  5. Emily H. says:

    I am making one of these for my middle school 8th grade science project. Thanks for the idea! It is perfect for my project.

  6. Marc de Vinck says:

    I know of a few kids who made these for science fairs. Good luck. Email directly if you need any help!

  7. Romero says:

    After the fountain stops running, would inverting the system allow it to reset?

    It seems that the water that had accumulated in bottle C would flow into the now empty bottle B.

  8. Excellent overview, it pointed me out something I didn’t realize before. I should encourage for your wonderful work. . I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

    For more information on water fountain you can visit to http://www.greenevolutions.com

  9. noob says:

    What happens if Bottle (A) is a “closed” system too? Or Volume Bottle (c) is smaller than Bottle (b)?