Hi Jennifer- This should be a pretty easy experiment to do, since all
you need is a pump, a basketball, and a tub of water. Here's what I bet
If the pressure inside the ball is just the same as the outside
(atmospheric) pressure, the ball can be either fully inflated to a
sphere or only partly inflated. Since it's only the air part inside
that's lignter than water, you'll find that the ball is more buoyant if
it's fully inflated. By that I mean that a higher fraction of the
ball's volume will float above water. I bet if you squish too much air
out of the ball, it may sink. (it depends on whether the rubber,
leather, and other ingredients of the basketball are lighter than water
Now we get more to the part you were asking about. What happens if
you pump up a fully inflated ball from say one atmosphere of pressure
to about two atmospheres of pressure? Ordinary air at ordinary pressure
weighs a little more than one gram per liter (a thousand cubic
centimeters). A basketball looks like it holds about 10 liters. (You
can measure that by pushing the ball under water and seeing how much it
displaces.) So that would be around 10 grams of air. If you double the
pressure at room temeperature, you have twice as much air inside, or
another 10 grams or so. The buoyancy will go down a little.
Archimedes figured out that the volume of the ball below the
water line is just big enough to hold enough water weigh as much as the
ball weighs. So the ball would sink just enough to make part below
water pick up about 10 cubic centimeters of volume, since the density
of water is one gram per cubic centimeter. That means the ball will
sink a small fraction of a millimeter, because the area of the
water-level slice of the ball is hundreds of square centimeters. (The
volume change is the height change times that area.) Observing that
will be hard, because when you increase the pressure much the ball
starts to expand a little too. My guess is that it will be very hard
for you to see the effect of the extra pressure on the ball's buoyancy.
If you had a very rigid tank and could pressurize it to many times
atmospheric pressure, then the effect would be easier to see.
Alternatively, you could push the ball into the water with a scale
that you don't mind if it gets wet or not, and measure the upward force
just when the ball is fully submerged. It should be about ten grams'
worth of force less than the force of the less-inflated ball (if your
scale is that accurate). It is much easier however just to weigh the
ball with different amounts of air in it when it is dry.
(republished on 07/18/06)