Geysers are a natural phenomena which have long captivated scientists. However, because of the extreme conditions (heat, pressure, depth, etc.) inside these features, they are nearly impossible to make direct observations of. This is where a physical model comes in.

In the mid 19th century, Robert Bunsen (of Bunsen burner fame) was commissioned by the Danish government to travel to Iceland, home of some of the world's oldest recorded geysers, and determine how they functioned. Faced with the above mentioned challenges, Bunsen built a model to test his theory of geyser action, the results of which are still useful to date.

Due to the simplicity of Bunsen's model, it is possible to replicate it for classroom use. This site, created for a physics demonstration course at the University of British Columbia, will walk you through the physics, construction, and a teaching of said model. The demonstration as presented is suitable for a grade 8-9 class, but can easily be scaled for other grades by placing more or less emphasis on quantitative analysis.

Topics covered by this demonstration:

  • The purpose of a physical model
  • Pressure and boiling
  • The hydrological cycle
  • Plate tectonics and volcanism
  • A tiny bit of geology (optional)
  • Feedback loops