Never underestimate the power of your average ping pong ball! Given the right conditions and with the right equipment, a small plastic ball can be strong enough to blast a hole into your paddle. You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of this supersonic serve.
Thanks to Professor Richard Mark French of Purdue University’s Mechanical Engineering Department and his team, seemingly harmless ping pong balls can be turned into lethal weapons. French does warn his viewers not to try this experiment at home, as it can be dangerous without the proper tools and safety equipment. With French holding a PhD in aerospace engineering, you can say this technology is rocket science!
How does it work? The basic principle of French’s supersonic ping pong gun is that rapid changes in air pressure can create enough force to fire a ball at high speeds. His team used a series of plastic tubes, vacuums to reduce air pressure, and air compressors to increase air pressure within the tubes. Add to that hours of research and testing, and you’ve got a supersonic ping pong gun.
With this extreme setup, an ordinary 2-gram ping pong ball can be fast enough to bore a hole into a wooden paddle, much like the effect of a bullet fired from a gun. French explains that they recorded their machine to fire the ball at 900 miles per hour or at Mach 1.2 (like a supersonic jet). The ping pong paddle is now rendered useless, and the ping pong ball is also obliterated by the sheer force. You might want to view the video in slow motion to appreciate it more.