For the past few weeks, heaps of individuals on Snapchat and Instagram have been flooding the platforms with videos of them precipitating their sneakers to see if they do indeed always land right-side up. There are thousands of videos about the so-called #Vanschallenge that both debunk and corroborate the validity of the claim at hand but what’s so interesting about this new trend is the sheer volume of attention its garnering. All the concentration has been on the seemingly magical properties of the shoe itself but something nobody has brought up is why this even happens in the first place.
Vans are created using a process called vulcanization. It’s a process that involves the heating raw rubber to cure it which in turn creates crosslinks inside the rubber compound bonding it together. However, the part most should be interested in is the sole of the shoe. The sole and outsole part of the shoe is made out of the heaviest material and goes through the most change during the vulcanization process.
The rubber shoe outsole parts are assembled onto the lasted upper before the rubber is completely cured. With the sole attached, the entire shoe must be heated in a vulcanizing oven. The shoe must be heated to around 110˚C for 80 minutes. Due to the fact that the sole contains the most mass, this means two things; Gravity will pull down on it with greater force and it takes a greater force to accelerate it.
Once you throw or drop a Vans shoe we now have to deal with air resistance. The force of air resistance acts on all parts of the object equally because gravity accelerates all portions an object equally when acting alone. In the case of these challenges, it usually is. Less massive parts of the object take less force to accelerate. So we have an evenly distributed force of air resistance acting on an object with uneven mass distribution. The less massive end will be slowed more than the more massive end. So the rubber part of the shoe AKA the sole lands first, usually.
However, what many have failed to realize is that this process is true for most other shoes. The soles of shoes are made to withstand the force of movement and the harsh environments humans are exposed to on a regular basis. The soles of men’s and women’s dress shoes are typically made from high-quality leather, rubber or a combination of the two. Casual shoes and work shoes often feature soles made out of natural rubber or polyurethane. It’s only natural that every shoe regardless of the brand would have the quality of always landing right side up. Such has been true for the people who have tested other brands of shoes like Converse and Nike and yielded the same results.
It makes sense that such an accessible shoe brand like Vans would be the poster child for the internets newest craze. Alternatively, the tweet that effectively started the viral Internet challenge does single out Vans shoes specifically.
The one nice thing about this challenge is that since its inception no one has taken it too far, yet. If this is gonna be the the things humanity loses their heads over, then so be it. It’s better than actually losing our heads.
‘Vans Challenge’ goes viral after Twitter user notices shoes land right-side up after throwing them
ELI5: Why does the heavier end of a falling object hit the ground first?