Up like a lead balloon! Bristol students defy idioms with physics once more

Pouring tea from a chocolate pot has only encouraged them

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The Independent Online

The team of Bristol students who proved that a chocolate teapot could be useful have been at the sayings book again by creating a lead balloon that doesn’t go down.

Challenged by BBC’s The One Show and TV production company Icon films, the group of engineering and design academics took a leaf out of Japanese culture’s papery book to fold a 1.6 cubic metre airship from what is the one of the highest density materials used in construction.

The group created an origami structure from lead foil which was just 16 thousandths of a millimetre thick and still six times heavier than household aluminium foil. Once carefully inflated - first with air to stabilise the shape and then with helium for the lift - the cube-shaped craft rose to the tethered height of five metres much to the group’s delight.


It wasn’t all cloudless skies in the project’s life, however. The first attempt to defy the English language went down as popular parlance would have it. An initial 4 metre sized zeppelin with a wooden structure added for too much mass to the equation and it took a further six weeks of head-scratching to crack the formula, and that must have made the eventual take-off the mark two model all the sweeter.

“Once in a while a revolutionary balloon comes along that changes everything,” joked Tom Bewley from the Bristol team.

“We firmly believe our design will supersede old-fashioned and uninspiring latex for a generation of children’s parties. For our next project, we intend to produce a viable balloon from granite blocks.”