Calculating How Many Helium Balloons It Takes to Lift Anything
The world looked in awe as the magician David Blaine soared 24,900 feet (7,600 meters) into the sky a few days ago with the help of 52 helium balloons. While it was an astounding stunt that few people would like to give a try of their own, a question mark probably materialized in the minds of many: "How many helium balloons does it take to lift anything?"
Be it your beloved pet or the Tesla Model S parked in your garage, it is easy to imagine them taking off into the sky Disney's Up-style; however, the exact number of balloons can be a bit hard to answer.
Well, much to anyone's pleasure, a molecular physicist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, Poland, has built the Helium Balloons Calculator that enables you to see how many helium-filled balloons it takes to lift anything off the floor.
Helium Balloons Calculator
You might be asking what it takes to build such a calculator. Well, it turns out, it's just basic Archimedes' principle, according to Dominik Czernia who is behind the Helium Balloons Calculator.
In an email to Interesting Engineering, Dominik explained, "Helium has a density lower than the density of air, which is why a balloon filled with this gas will start moving up. The density of helium is equal to 0.1785 grams per liter.
The density of air, on the other hand, is about 1.25 grams per liter. Leaving some tolerance for the weight of the balloon and the string, we can approximate that every liter of helium has a lifting force of one gram."
You could manually find how many balloons you would need to lift anything by determining its weight, measuring the size of the balloons, calculating the volume of the balloon, finding out how much helium you need according to the size, and diving the total volume of helium needed by the volume of one balloon.
Or you could just use Dominik's calculator, which will do all of that for you in the blink of an eye -- provided you enter the needed information, of course.
While David Blaine didn't use this calculator to find out he needed 52 balloons, it is safe to say that it would make his job easier.
Lifting stuff with balloons is not a new thing
David Blaine's stunt was not only one where someone -- or something, took the skies with the help of a few balloons.
Back in 2011, a National Geographic team lifted a specially made house using 300 8-foot-tall balloons. They were able to make it soar 10,000 feet into the sky and fly for one hour.
It was the real-life Up experience for anyone who was lucky enough to watch it live.
Moreover, on a lighter note, YouTube personality Jenna Marbles has also done a video where she took the trial and error approach to see how many balloons it would take to lift her dog Marbles off the floor -- it was all done in a safe environment of course.
The dog looked pretty indifferent about flying, so indifferent that he fell asleep at one point.
Such stunts can be risky
You should know that while, as seen with David Blaine and the real-life Up! house, such a stunt is perfectly doable, it does come with certain risks.
Dominik wrote, "David soared nearly 25,000 ft over the Arizona desert, but that's almost only half of the maximum distance possible. Why can he not fly higher? Because the atmospheric conditions become too dangerous for a man.
"The oxygen level becomes very low at these heights (that's why he needed to wear an oxygen mask), it's cold there, and a human body can be exhausted after floating for so long in the sky. If David had lost consciousness, he would go too high, and it would be too late to disengage from the balloons. That stunt was incredibly risky!"
He continued, "Thankfully, his 2-years training period and the support of his team and family paid off. I was watching this beautiful stunt having in mind how dangerous it is over there, and I kept my fingers crossed. I understood the science hidden under the magic, and that's why I was so impressed. Good job, David!"
A job well done, indeed! As Dominic wonderfully put, David Blaine was "like a character from an animated movie", in a stunt which was an example of pure science. "It's nothing else but our old friend buoyancy and the Archimedes' principle that were responsible for lifting off the magician," Dominic wrote. Aren't the best science tricks are the ones that seem like magic?
Now, only one question remains unanswered: How many helium-filled balloons would it take to lift you off of your feet?