When you’re firing a Nerf gun at your sleeping friend, you might not be thinking about how your Nerf gun is working, you just want to hit him in the eyeball and wake him up. However, it turns out that little toy has a wonderful design, elegant in its simplicity, and worthy of a deeper look.
In the video above, Bill Hammack, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), explains the simple but ingenious design of a normal Nerf Blaster, one of the smallest but most ubiquitous Nerf guns.
Hammack, the “engineerguy,” explains how the gun fires, with a special focus on how it manages to only shoot one dart at a time. Using a “novel air restriction mechanism” that forces air into loaded chambers, the gun’s design is easy to understand. It also explains every failed firing you ever had in your life. It turns out you didn’t load the dart correctly, preventing the valve from shutting entirely, and that resulted in air being dispersed into more than one chamber, producing weak shots.
If only I knew then what I know now…
As he points out from the toy’s own patent, the air restriction design is “simply constructed, structurally robust, compact, automatically operated, and relatively inexpensive.” That sounds like a perfect description for a very successful toy.
Now if only he could tell us how to convince our moms to stop throwing our Nerf toys away when we aren’t around, then we’d really be on our way.
What other classic kids toy would you like to learn about the science behind it? Tell us in the comments section below.