Mirror Image Plant Prints

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Yesterday on Twin Cities Live, I demonstrated some fun botanical science projects for learners of all ages, including Vegetable Vampires and Leaf Chromatography.

This fun art/science project lets you transfer plant pigments to cloth, creating beautiful prints of your favorite leaves and flowers. It’s especially great for fall, when there are so many colorful leaves around.

Mirror Image Plant Prints- kitchenpantryscientist.com

You’ll need:

-Fresh leaves and flowers (Dry leaves won’t work.)

-A hard, smooth pounding surface, like a wooden cutting board or carving board

-Wax paper or plastic wrap

-Mallets or hammers

-Untextured cotton cloth, like a dishtowel. Heavy cloth works better than very thin cloth.

-*Alum and baking soda to treat cloth (This is optional. I don’t pre-treat my fabric, but the treatment step will help bond and preserve color, if you want to frame your prints. You can also buy fabric that’s pre-treated for dyeing.)

Mirror Image Plant Prints- kitchenpantryscientist.com

Safety tips: Protective eye wear is recommended. Young children should be supervised when using mallets and hammers.

What to do:

*If treating cloth: The day before you do the project, add 2 quarts water to a large pot. Add 1 Tb alum and 1 tsp baking soda to the water. Add the cotton and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 hours, turn off heat and soak for at least two hours. Let fabric dry.

The next steps are the same, whether you’re using an untreated piece of cotton or treated cloth.

  1. Take a walk to collect colorful leaves and flowers. Choose plants that can be flattened. Flowers with huge centers, like coneflowers don’t work as well, but petals may be removed and pounded.
  2. Cover the pounding surface with waxed paper or plastic wrap.
  3. Cut a piece of cloth that will fit on the pounding surface when folded in half. Iron the fold.
  4. Open the cloth and lay it on the pounding surface. (See image above)
  5. Arrange leaves and flowers on the cloth.

    Mirror Image Plant Prints- kitchenpantryscientist.com

  6. Fold the cloth over the plants and pound it with the hammer or mallet. If you’re using a hammer, pound more gently.
  7. Pound until you can see the forms of the leaves through the fabric. As the pigment leaks through, you’ll see the outlines of what you’re smashing. Hint: Hammers work better than mallets for fall leaves. For juicy leaves and flowers, use a mallet or hammer gently.

    Mirror Image Plant Prints- kitchenpantryscientist.com

  8. When you’re finished pounding, unfold the fabric to reveal the print you created. Remove the leaves and petals.

    Mirror Image Plant Prints- kitchenpantryscientist.com

  9. Label the image with plant names, enhance it with paint or markers, or leave nature’s design to speak for itself.

The Science Behind the Fun:

Pigments are compounds that give things color, and many of them are found in nature. Flowers, leave, fruits and vegetables are full of brilliant pigments. In this experiment, we transfer plant pigments to cloth by bursting plant cells using pressure from a hammer or mallet.

The green pigment found in leaves is called chlorophyll. In the fall, many trees stop making chlorophyll, and the red, yellow and orange pigments inside the leaves become visible.

Although you create a mirror image of leaves and flowers, you’ll notice that the color may be more intense on one side of the print. A waxy covering called a cuticle covers leaves, and is sometimes thicker on the top than on the underside of the leaf. It may affect the transfer of pigment to the cloth, making it easy to see structures like veins on the leaf print.


What parts of the leaf can you identify in the print you created?

Six Cool Facts about the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

In less than two weeks, the kids and I will hit the road to venture into the path of totality of the August 21st total solar eclipse. We’re hoping for clear skies in St. Joseph, MO, so that we can stand under the moon-darkened sky and catch a glimpse of the Sun’s corona.

Pinhole Solar Viewer- Kitchen Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books)

NASA’s website is one of my favorite science resources, and they have tons of great information on the upcoming total solar eclipse. Check it out to learn when and where you can watch the eclipse, and how much of the Sun will be covered up in your back yard.

To safely watch the eclipse without damaging your eyes, you’ll need National Science Foundation-approved solar viewing glasses. If you don’t have glasses, you can easily view it indirectly by making a pinhole viewer. Here’s a link to an article I wrote for Scholastic Parents on how to build a solar viewer using a shoe box and some aluminum foil.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco has a fantastic Total Solar Eclipse 2017 app that you can download for more resources and to watch the eclipse live.

Here are some of the coolest things I learned about total solar eclipses from NASA’s website:

1: During a total eclipse, it’s possible to see bright stars and planets, even in the middle of the day. (I knew it would get dark, but that’s amazing!)

2. The Sun is 400 times wider than the Moon, but it’s 400 times farther away, so they appear to be the same size if you’re looking at them from Earth. That’s why the Moon can completely cover the sun. Scientists describe this by saying that they have the same angular size.

3. If you’re in the path of the total eclipse and place a large sheet of white paper on the ground, you may see dancing “shadow bands” moments before and after the eclipse, which are created by tiny slivers of sunlight passing through the currents of Earth’s atmosphere.

4. The temperature in areas of the Moon’s shadow will briefly drop as the Sun’s light is blocked.

5. The only popular song that refers directly to an actual solar eclipse is Carly Simon’s song “You’re so Vain.” (1970 total solar eclipse in Nova Scotia) (Around 3:05 in the song.)

6. Just before a total solar eclipse, you can see flashes of light called “Bailey’s Beads”around the edges of the dark circle of the Moon. They’re caused by sunlight flashing through canyons on the Moon’s surface.

Will you be watching? The next total solar eclipse won’t traverse the continental United States until April, 2024.





Elemental Science: Gallium

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Gallium is a soft metal related to other metals in Group 13 of the periodic table, including aluminum. It doesn’t exist as a free element in nature, but can be purified from other metallic ores, like zinc. Each gallium atom has 31 protons in its nucleus, so its atomic number is 31.

You’ll find it around you in thermometers, semiconductors, and even some LED lights, and one property that makes it so cool is that it melts from solid to liquid at low temperatures (around 85.6 degrees F or 29.8 degrees C.) This makes it easy to play with the liquid metal simply by melting it in a glass of hot water, or in the palm of your hand.

You can see the crystal structure in the side of the gallium “Lego” we created in play dough! KitchenPantryScientist.com

*Not for small children! Wearing gloves and safety goggles is recommended when observing gallium. Although is is fairly safe, gallium will coat hands with a lead-like substance. (Wash with soap and water to remove.) Gallium can also damage other metals, so keep it away from jewelry, like rings. I always recommend doing your research, as well as checking out the MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheet) of a new substance before using it to know what precautions to take.

We ordered 99.99% pure gallium on Amazon. It arrived in plastic tubes,in crystal form, but by placing the tubes in hot tap water, it melted easily. Eye droppers work well for moving the melted metal around. I’d recommend using a rimmed paper plate to contain the mess.

Try imprinting a Lego or toy car in play dough and pouring the molten gallium into the imprint. When it solidifies, you’ll have a cast of the item you imprinted! (It takes a while.) Gallium coats glass to create mirrored surfaces, so you can pour some into a small jar and use it to coat the sides. If you leave some in a puddle on the bottom of an upside-down jar, you can watch crystals form.

In other words, it’s pretty awesome!

Kid-Friendly “Elephant Toothpaste”

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

I’ve been hearing about this science demonstration for years, and finally decided to try it! If you do it at home, kids should wear safety goggles or sunglasses to protect their eyes, and adults should pour the 3% hydrogen peroxide into the bottles.

You’ll need:
a tray or cookie sheet
3% hydrogen peroxide (available at most pharmacies and discount stores)
liquid dish soap
dry yeast (2 packets)
food coloring
empty 16 oz bottle

What to do:
1. Pour 1 cup hydrogen peroxide into an empty 16oz bottle. (A funnel helps!)
2. Add 2 Tbs. liquid dish soap to the bottle and mix well with the hydrogen peroxide.
3. Put 8 drops of food coloring into the bottle and swirl to mix.
4. Position the bottle on the tray.
5. Pour 2 packets of yeast into a paper cup and pinch the cup’s lip to make a pouring spout.
6. Quickly pour the yeast into the bottle, while swirling the liquid vigorously to mix well. The better you mix it, the better the experiment will work!
7. Set the bottle down on the tray before the foam emerges from the top.
8. Watch the chemical reaction between catalase in the yeast and the hydrogen peroxide create oxygen bubbles in the soap!
9. When the reactions has stopped, have an adult clean up the mess by pouring everything down the sink and rinsing the tray with water. (Normally kids should clean up, but for this one, I’d recommend an adult do it.)

The Science Behind the Fun:

Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) is a common household chemical that is often used to disinfect wounds and bleach hair. Certain chemicals can break it down into water (H2O) and Oxygen (O).

Dry yeast is a living fungus that produces a molecule called catalase. Catalase is very good at breaking down hydrogen peroxide quickly. When you add yeast to hydrogen peroxide that’s been mixed with liquid soap, the soap traps the oxygen and makes bubbles that push their way out of the bottle.

You may notice that the bottle feels warm. That’s because the chemical reaction produces heat and is called an exothermic reaction.

Science Light

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Here’s a fun optics experiment, based on one created in 1842 by Jean-Daniel Colladon, that you can do at home using a laser pointer and a bottle of water.

Parental supervision required. (Eye protection recommended for kids.) Never shine a laser pointer at or near eyes, as it can cause blindness.

Skullsinthestars.com has a well-written, detailed explanation of how light can be reflected in a transparent medium, like water.


Floating Ping Pong Balls

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

This experiment is so awesome that our balloon-popping dog Heidi had to get in on the action! Try it, and you’ll see how much fun it is to play with the forces of physics using a blow drier and a ping pong ball or balloon.

Newton’s third law tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the air pushes up on the ball, the ball pushes back down on the air. Other forces are at work too, as pressure differences in the air column help the ball stay in the middle of the air flow.

Weather Science

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

It’s fun to track the weather, and you can create some cool meteorology instruments using stuff you have around the house. Here’s a great post by NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) on how to make your own weather station.

It’s also fun and easy to do this cool convection current experiment, using warm and cold water to explore how air moves in Earth’s atmosphere.

Convection Experiment (kitchenpantryscientist.com)

To see how cold fronts move under warm fronts, you’ll need ice cube trays, water, blue and red food coloring and a clear container.

  1. Add water to an ice cube tray and add a few drops of blue food coloring to the water in each cube space. Freeze.
  2. Fill a clear container with room temperature water.
  3. Place one or two blue ice cube or two at one end of the container, and a few drops of red food coloring at the other end.
  4. Observe what happens.

The Science Behind the Fun:

Cold water(blue) is more dense than warm water and forces warmer water (red) to move up and over it.

This is similar to the way warm air is forced up when it collides with masses of cold air in the atmosphere. Warm air carries energy, and when there’s lots of moisture in the air, these collisions often result in thunderstorms.


Homemade Tie-Dye Fidget Spinner

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Homemade Spinner with Tie-Dye Edges (KitchenPantryScientist.com)

Make a super-cool spinning toy using skateboard bearings, super glue and a little physics. Customize your design with a marker tie-dyed shoelace.

Warning: Not for recommended for kids under 5. Use adult supervision for super glue, sharp points, rubbing alcohol and glue gun.

You’ll need:

-4 skateboard bearings (available online or at skateboard stores)
-superglue or Krazy Glue
-a white shoelace
-permanent markers, like Sharpies
-rubbing alcohol (isopropanol)
-a glue gun


1. Use a sharp point to remove the cover from one of the bearings so that you can see the ball bearings inside. (See image above.)
2. Cut a piece of paper 6cm x 6cm and draw an X from corner to corner.
3. Center the bearing with the cover removed in the middle of the X. Then, center the other 3 bearings around the one in the middle so that they’re evenly spaced. You can use a ruler to check spacing. (See image below.)


4. Add a single drop of super glue to the junction between each bearing to connect them. If you add too much, the spinner will stick to the paper. *Be careful not to get any glue onto the moving parts of the bearings.


5. When the glue is dry, carefully turn the spinner over and place another drop of glue at each junction.

6. When the glue is dry, prop the spinner up on its side and add glue to the junctions on the sides. (See image below.) Repeat on each side.


7. While the spinner glue is drying, make dots of permanent marker on the shoelace. In a well-ventilated area, suspend the shoelace over a tray or colander and drip rubbing alcohol onto it to make the colors run together. (See image.) Let it dry completely.


8. Use the glue gun to attach the shoelace to the outside edges of the spinner. Fill in gaps between the lace and bearings with hot glue.


9. Spin away!

The Science Behind the Fun:

If you look closely at a skateboard bearing there are only a few ball bearings connecting the center and the outside part that spins. This means that there’s very little friction, or rubbing, between the parts. If you spin the toy around the center bearing, that bearing is called the axis of rotation.

The three bearings on the outside of the spinner provide the rotating mass that gives the toy a property called angular momentum, which keeps it spinning until the frictional force from the ball bearings in the center slows it down.

Pigments are molecules that give things color. The pigments in permanent markers are trapped in ink compounds that are insoluable in water, which means that they won’t dissolve in water. However, if you add a solvent, like rubbing alcohol, or isopropanol, to permanent markers, it dissolves the ink. As the alcohol moves through the cloth you are decorating, it carries the pigments along with it.


 - by KitchenPantryScientist

With a brush, some batteries, a small motor and a few wires, it’s easy to create a robot that spins, bumps and buzzes around on any smooth surface.

You’ll need:

-a small brush, like a vegetable brush or a cleaning brush

-two AA batteries

battery holder for 2 AA batteries (optional)

-insulated wire

-a small toy motor with lead wires and pencil eraser or small rubber stopper (or vibrating motor)

battery clip (optional)

-zip ties (optional)

-electrical tape or duct tape


Make your bristlebot!

  1. Attach the motor to one end of the top of the brush. If it’s not a vibrating motor, stick a eraser or rubber stopper onto the spinning post to make it vibrate. Use a zip tie or duct tape to secure it. Make sure the spinning parts can rotate freely.

    Attach motor- KitchenPantryScientist.com

  2. Attach the battery holder to the top of the brush near the motor.

    Attach batteries- KitchenPantryScientist.com

  3. Insert batteries in motor.
  4. Twist wires around the motor terminals and secure with tape. (These may be the wires on the battery clip, if you have one.)

    Connect battery clip- KitchenPantryScientist.com

  5. To start the motor, attach wires directly to the battery terminals, or to the battery clip and snap it onto the batteries.

    Bristlebot- KitchenPantryScientist.com

  6. Place your robot on a smooth surface to see what happens.

Enrichment: Try different brush shapes, sizes and angles to see how they move. Does your robot spin in the same direction as the motor, or the opposite direction?

The Science Behind the Fun: In this experiment, you complete a battery-powered electrical circuit to spin a vibrating motor. The vibrations traveling through the bristles of the brush move your robot around on the floor.





Homemade Sweep Nets (from Outdoor Science Lab for Kids)

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

This fun project from my book Outdoor Science Lab for Kids shows you how to collect and identify amazing arthropods using a net you make yourself. For more engaging outdoor experiments, you can order the book here, or anywhere else books are sold.

Image from Outdoor Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books 2016)


– sweep net or: two wire hangers,  an old, light-colored pillowcase, scissors, pliers, long wooden broomstick or sturdy yardstick, and duct tape

– area with long grass

– jars

-large white piece of fabric, like an old sheet

–  insect identification books (optional)

Safety Tips and Hints

  • Don’t pick insects up with your bare hands, unless you know they don’t bite or sting.
  • Ticks love tall grass. If there are ticks in your area, take precautions and do a tick check after your insects hunt.



Step 1:  If you don’t have a sweep net, make one by straightening and twisting two wire hangers together. Form them into a loop, leaving about 3 inches (8cm) straight on either end. Cut about one third off of the open end of a pillow case and pull the mouth of the pillowcase over the wire loop. Tape it securely around the perimenter.

Image from Outdoor Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books 2016)

Step 2.   Find an area with long grass and plants. Sweep with your net the same way you’d sweep a floor, but flip the open side of the net back and forth to capture insects in the grass.

From Outdoor Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books 2016)


Step 3.    Close your net by flipping the bottom over the top and take it over to your large piece of fabric.

Step 4.    Carefully dump the creatures you’ve collected onto the white fabric to inspect them. If you want a closer look, put an insect inside a jar with a loose lid.

Image from Outdoor Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books 2016)

Step 5.    Count how many legs they have, how many body segments, look for antennae, wings and unique color.  Record your observations in a notebook.

Step 6.    Use insect identification books, or other means to identify what you’ve found.

Step 7.   Keep a journal of the insects and arachnids you capture, the time of day, and where you found them.

The Science Behind the Fun:

Arthropods are amazing animals with skeletons outside their body, called exoskeletons,   segmented bodies, and jointed legs.

When you sweep, chances are you’ll find lots of insects, which are arthropods with six legs. They often have wings, and their life cycle goes from egg to larva, to adult. Some insects, like butterflies, also go through a pupal stage, in which their bodies are significantly transformed. The antennae on their heads are sensory organs.