Blundering Into Innovation

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

I was thrilled to see the words “In Praise of Failure” emblazoned across the New York Times Magazine innovation issue Sunday morning and to read stories that illustrate that there is no substitute for trial, error and risk-taking in the process of invention. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about a fantastic kids’ science competition (Young Scientist Challenge) and an online kids’ show (Annedroids) that both embrace the idea that you have to make mistakes to create something great.

Two of the Young Scientist Challenge finalists talk about their Rube Goldberg machine.

Two of the Young Scientist Challenge finalists talk about their Rube Goldberg machine.

Each year, 3M teams up with Discovery Education to host an innovation competition called the Young Scientist Challenge. At the finals this year in St. Paul, ten smart, articulate kids presented original inventions they’d been working on all summer with 3M mentors. (Check out their videos on the website to see the amazing things they’ve invented!) The competition encourages kids to create innovations that address problems they see in the world around them, test their ideas using math and science, and present their projects, along with obstacles they faced along the way.

As one fun part of the competition, I got to watch the finalists frantically finish up Rube Goldberg machines they’d assembled from Legos, marbles, baking soda, vinegar, Mousetrap, and various other materials as teams. As judges looked on, some machines worked, and some marbles never made it into the mousetrap, but it was clear that process trumped perfection as the kids explained their ideas, the science behind them, and how they’d worked together to create their machines.

My kids are already looking forward to entering next year’s competition!

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The kid inventors on Annedroids (Amazon)

Kids get inspired in all kinds of ways, so I was thrilled when my 8YO switched things up from pink ponies to Amazon’s invention series Annedroids. I’m sure that she loves that  the main inventor is a girl, and as a science educator, the first episode had me at “we didn’t fail, we just discovered another way of doing it wrong.” The entire series is free if you have Amazon Prime, but the first episode is available at no cost everyone.

As for me,  I’ll be setting up a family holiday Rube Goldberg competition (and not just for the kids!)  We have Legos, baking soda, vinegar, and plenty of old toys in the basement, so I just need to pick up a Mousetrap game or two!

*Innovation Story: When 3M hired a young, banjo-playing engineering student named Richard Drew in 1920, they had no idea that he would revolutionize the entire company. At the time, 3M’s wildly popular new invention (and sole product) was abrasive particles stuck to paper with adhesive (sandpaper) and Drew’s job was to take samples to auto shops, where they could try it out on cars they were prepping to paint. Hanging around and observing the process of sanding and painting, Drew discovered that the tape they were using to do two-tone paint jobs was pulling fresh paint off the cars and decided to try to make a better tape. 3M gave him a lab and some materials, and he got to work experimenting, eventually introducing the world’s first roll of masking tape in 1925. As the company grew,  innovation continued to be an integral part of the culture, with every employee encouraged to spend 15% of their time working on their own projects. Now they make everything from the reflective material on street signs to multi-layer optical films and paper-thin microbial growth surfaces.

 

 

All About That Base

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

In addition to some of my neighborhood friends,two awesome chemist friends helped me out with this song: the amazing Dr. Raychelle Burks (with the Bronsted-Lowry line) and bassist Ryan Williams, who happens to have a PhD in Chemistry, with his awesome bass-playing.

The video quality isn’t top-notch, but you’ll get the idea, and hopefully learn a little chemistry!

Physics! Biology! Chemistry! Yeah!

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

I got together with some friends this weekend to do a quick iPhone recording of a chemistry song (on my Kitchen Pantry Scientist YouTube channel soon) and these awesome kids were nice enough take a break from playing to sing the Science Song with me. They had me laughing so hard that I could hardly get the words out!

Can you make up a song about science?

Candy Science: Icy Worm Pond

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

If you got any sour gummy worms for Halloween, they’re probably coated with sweet-sour powder made from citric acid  and sugar crystals. Using the same science used to make rock candy, you can use sour gummy worms to crystallize sugar syrup and make an”icy worm pond.” It’s even more fun to add sugar cubes to your pond! After a few days, you can chip your worms out of the “ice” to see how they taste. I created this experiment for Imperial Sugar and Dixie Crystals. Check it out on their website (click here) for directions and to learn more about the science behind the fun!

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If you don’t have sour worms, try coating other (non-chocolate) candy with sugar by dipping it in water, rolling it in sugar and letting it dry before you add it to your pond. It would be fun to do this experiment with Swedish fish, or lifesavers! 

Can you make up an experiment using Halloween Candy? Comment on this post with the experiment you created and you could win a copy of Kitchen Science Lab for Kids*!

*Winner will be chosen at random.

 

 

Halloween Science: Fizzy Balloon Monster Heads, Green Slime and More

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

With a few ingredients from your kitchen, you can turn your table into a mad scientist’s laboratory for Halloween! We made Fizzy Balloon Monster Heads, Alien Monster Eggs, Rock Candy and Soda Geysers on Fox9 News this morning. Click on the blue experiment names for directions!
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Last Saturday morning, I had fun showing Kare11 meteorologist Belinda Jensen how to make Mad Scientist’s Green Slime, Frankenworms and Magic Potion. Click here to watch!

Shoe Box Solar Viewer (for watching today’s partial solar eclipse)

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

There’s going to be a solar eclipse this afternoon, so I’m re-posting directions on how to make some simple solar viewers!

NEVER look directly at the sun, since you can permanently damage your retinas (the light sensors on the back of your eyeballs.)

Using a pinhole viewer, you can see the sun’s image with the sun behind you!

You can safety view the sun (and therefore a solar eclipse) using a shoe box by standing with the sun BEHIND you.  All you need is a shoe box without a lid, a piece of white paper, aluminum foil, a pin and tape. It’s perfect for viewing a solar eclipse, like the one coming up this afternoon. It will be visible from around 4:30 CST until 6:00 PM CST here in Minnesota!

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, blocking the sun from view.Go to this eclipse calculator to see when and where you can best view the eclipse with your viewer! Here in Minnesota, we’ll see a partial eclipse.

First, tape white paper over one end of the shoe box (on the inside.) This is your viewing screen.

Then, cut a big notch out of the other end of the shoe box and tape aluminum foil over it.

Use a pin to poke a hole in the center of the foil.  If you mess up, you can always put new foil on and try again. The smaller the hole, the better the focus, but we made ours a little bigger than the actual size of the pin.

Now, stand with the sun BEHIND you. (See photo at top of post. The sun is behind her, high in the sky.) NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN THROUGH THE PINHOLE ITSELF.

Hold the box upside down so the pinhole is pointed at the sun behind you.  The foil should be behind your line of sight so it’s not reflecting the sun in your eyes. Light rays from the sun will shine through the pinhole and project an (upside down) image on the white paper.

This was taken on a cloudy day when the sun peeked out, but you can clearly see the bright circle near the center of the paper.

Practice on a sunny day (or when the sun peeks out between the clouds) so that you know what to do when it’s time for the eclipse. Small children should be supervised so they don’t try to look directly at the sun.

You can do the same thing using two white index card, poking a hole in one you hold nearest to you and projecting the image on the one you hold away from you (with the sun behind you.)

If you’re interested in projecting a larger image of the sun, try making a solar viewer from  binoculars, a tripod and a white piece of paper. Click here for directions!

Enjoy! Watching an eclipse in the 70s after my dad came to school and helped us all make these boxes is one of my earliest “science” memories!

Halloween Soda Geysers

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

For an explosive fountain of Halloween fun, try this carbonated chemical reaction!

You’ll need:

-a two liter bottle of Diet Coke

-a roll of  Mentos mints

-a piece of paper.

-a disposable plastic table cloth or some construction paper

1. Make a Halloween costume for your Diet Coke bottle. We made pumpkins by cutting up a plastic tablecloth into sections and cutting a hole on the fold for the mouth of the bottle. Then, we draped the “costume” over the bottle and decorated it with permanent marker.

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2.Remove the lid from the bottle and set the Diet Coke on a flat surface (outside!)

3. Roll some paper so it will fit into the mouth of the bottle, tape it into a tube, and fill it with a roll of Mentos mints.

4. Quickly dump the mints into the bottle and stand back! (Young kids should wear safety goggles or sunglasses to protect their eyes.)

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The science behind the fun: Scientists are not sure exactly why the Mentos cause such an explosive reaction, but they think it has to do with the chemical reaction that occurs between the Diet Coke and the Mentos mints, when chemicals in the Mentos break the surface tension in the soda at the same time that carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles form very rapidly on the surface of the mints, causing a huge, very fast release of carbon dioxide bubbles. The pressure of this gas builds very quickly in the bottle, shooting the liquid and bubbles into the air.

Halloween Science: Cornstarch Goblin Goo

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

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Mix a cup of cornstarch and around half a cup of water together for instant Halloween fun! Cornstarch and water mix together to form a strange concoction, called a shear-thickening fluid, that behaves like a solid when you agitate it, but behaves like a liquid when you let it sit still.

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To make your Goblin Goo more Halloween-y, add a drop of food coloring, but you’ll risk staining hands and other surfaces. You can experiment with adding more water or cornstarch to get your goo to the consistency of thick syrup.

The molecules in your mixture are sort of like long ropes.  When you leave them alone, or move them slowly, they can slide past each other.  However, if you squeeze them, stir them or roll them around in your hands, the ropey molecules look and feel more like a solid.  Materials like cornstarch goo are known as non-Newtonian fluids, since they don’t have the normal properties of  either a liquid or a solid.

Here’s a “watch and do” video for kids:

Tips For Making Science Experiments More Fun For Everyone

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

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Tonight, I’m doing a radio interview about my new book, Kitchen Science Lab for Kids to talk about “making science fun.”

Since I already think that science is pretty fun, but know that the very thought of doing an experiment can be daunting for many parents, I decided to make a short list of tips for making at-home science even more fun for everyone involved.

1. Choose a project you have the time and energy for. Many science experiments, like the ones in my book, only take five or ten minutes and don’t even require a trip to the store. You can have a paper bag volcano “erupting” in 15 minutes, but on a rainy day, you may be willing to commit to a more involved experiment, like growing bacteria on homemade petri platesIt’s like making dinner. Some nights you create a gourmet feast, and other nights you slap together grilled cheese sandwiches, but even grilled cheese hits the spot!

2. Let the kids do everything that they can safely do by themselves. They should be the ones measuring, mixing and experimenting. Don’t worry if they spill a little, or the measurements aren’t perfect! They’re EXPERIMENTING!

3. If they want try something that’s not in the instructions, let them!!! As long as it’s safe, let them test their ideas. Who cares if it doesn’t work? Mistakes, trial and error are how we learn, and this is the great thing about doing science at home. Kids can substitute orange juice for milk, or put cornstarch goo in a balloon in the freezer. They’re exploring the world and learning to be creative thinkers.

4. Have kids clean up their mess. This makes science more fun for parents and will make them more likely to allow future experimentation. Remember, back yards and driveways make great science labs, and can be sprayed off with a hose!

Have fun experimenting!