Homemade Magic Orbs

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

My 8-YO loves Orbeez, those water-thirsty polymer balls that go from the size of cookie sprinkles to the size of marbles after a quick soak.

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I wondered whether we could make something similar from gelatin or agar.

A quick search online showed me that some chefs use a technique called oil spherification to make tiny round morsels using everything from balsamic vinegar to fruit juice, mixed with gelatin and agar.  It’s known to cooks as a “molecular gastronomy” technique, and takes advantage of the fact that water and oil don’t mix. Water-based droplets falling through chilled oil form  into perfect spheres due to surface tension, and gelatin and agar added to the mix are colloids that solidify as they cool.

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We made some fun (inedible) orbs of our own, using the technique: standard orbs (from gelatin or agar and water), floating orbs (with agar and vinegar) and color-changing acid/base indicator orbs (from red cabbage juice and gelatin or agar.) Adult supervision is required for this project, since it involves hot liquids. The orbs may also be a choking hazard, so keep them away from toddlers. I demonstrated how to make them on Kare11 Sunrise News.

To make magic orbs, you’ll need

-unflavored gelatin or agar*

-water

-vinegar

-food coloring

-cold vegetable oil in a tall container. Chill oil in freezer or on ice for at least an hour.

HINT: Orbs made with vinegar and agar shrink better than those made with gelatin (see floating orb recipe below!)

Standard colored orbs:

1. With adult supervision, dissolve 5 packets unflavored gelatin or 2 Tbs. agar in 1 cup hot water. Add 2 tsp. vinegar. Microwave and stir until completely dissolved.

2. Pour into smaller containers and add food coloring. When cooler, but not solid, add the melted, colored gelatin or agar to an empty glue container or squeeze bottle.

3. Drip gelatin or agar solution into the cold oil, a few drops at a time so it forms into marble-sized orbs and sinks. Allow to cool for 30 seconds or so and retrieve with a slotted spoon. Rinse with water and repeat, re-chilling the oil as needed until you have as many orbs as you want.

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4. Rinse orbs with water. Dry them out by setting them on a plate overnight if you want to see them shrink and then re-hydrate them with water. Orbs can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. (Keep away from small children, since they may be a choking hazard.)

To make floating orbs, follow directions above, but make with 1 cup white vinegar and 2 Tbs. agar. They will sink and float when added to water with a few tsp. of baking soda mixed in as the vinegar and baking soda react to form carbon dioxide gas.

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To make color-changing orbs, dissolve 2 Tbs. agar or 5 packs unflavored gelatin in 1 cup red cabbage juice (magic potion) and follow directions for making orbs. Then drop them in vinegar to watch them turn pink or in water containing baking soda to watch them turn blue!

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Could you make homemade jelly beans using flavored gelatin using this same method? Try it!

*Agar, or agar agar flakes can be found in the Asian food section of many grocery stores!

 

Frozen: Crystallize Your Holidays

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

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With the touch of her bare hands, “Frozen’s” Elsa coats the world with ice. It takes a little longer, but with your imagination, you can use alum crystals to make ordinary objects extraordinary with science!

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We coated pipe-cleaner snowflakes, styrofoam snow people and even an evergreen branch with gorgeous ice-like alum crystals. We demonstrated how to make these on Kare11 Sunrise News.

Here’s how to grow your own alum crystals:

Ingredients: alum (spice section of grocery store. 3 small containers for half recipe, 5 containers for 4 cup recipe. Alum is relatively expensive, so you might want to cut the recipe in half and crystallize smaller items! See below.) glue, water, paintbrush,small items you’d like to coat with crystals.

1. Using a paintbrush, brush glue on the surface you want to “freeze”. One option is to twist 3 pieces of pipe cleaner together to make a snowflake. If you have beads, add them to your snowflake before crystallizing!

2. Before the glue dries, sprinkle the object with alum. These are your seeds for crystallization. Allow object to dry.

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3.With adult supervision, dissolve about  1 1/4 cup alum in 4 cups in hot water (we use the microwave), reserving some alum to sprinkle on other objects you may want to make later. (One 1.9 oz. container of alum is around 1/4 cup, so you’ll need 5 of them.) Liquid will be cloudy and some crystals will sink to the bottom. This is your supersaturated alum solution.

4. Allow liquid to cool.

5. Suspend objects in alum solution until crystals are the size you’d like them to be. This may take an hour for small crystals or overnight for large one.  Remove the crystals from the jar and dry your crystallized object. We grew big crystals on our snowflakes and then scraped them off the beads, but left them on the pipe cleaners.

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6. To crystallize more objects, reheat alum solution, stir up crystals to dissolve as many as possible, and cool before adding the next thing to be “frozen.”

The Science Behind the Fun: Some crystals, like alum, will form from supersaturated solutions, like the one you used in this experiment. A supersaturated solution is one that is forced to hold more atoms in water (or another solute) than it normally would.  You can make these solutions using heat or pressure.  Crystals can form when a supersaturated solutions encounters a “seed” atom or molecule, causing the other atoms to come out of the solution and attach to the seed.

What else can you think of to crystallize?

Give Kids The Gift of Science

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

At home science offers an opportunity for kids to have fun and be creative thinkers. This holiday season, help your kids take a break from screens with an activity they’ll love, like blowing up balloons with baking soda and vinegar!

Wrap up Kitchen Science Lab for Kids (available wherever books are sold) with a box of baking soda, a bottle of vinegar and some balloons for an instant holiday hit.

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Better yet, put together a homemade science kit for the kids on your list and let them choose and experiment a day to do over break. (Many of them are easier than baking cookies.)

 

 

Put kids in charge of the experiments. Let them try whatever they want, as long as it’s safe, even if you don’t think it will work. We learn to be creative when we’re given freedom to make mistakes and go beyond the instructions.

Homemade Holiday Window Stickies (A Density, Diffusion, Evaporation Experiment)

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

I’m creating a fun new holiday experiment for 2014, but thought I’d re-post this experiment that my kids and I made up last year, since we love it so much. Try it!

What happens when food coloring molecules move, or DIFFUSE through gelatin, the substance that makes jello jiggle?

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This creative science experiment that my kids and I invented lets you play with floatation physics by sprinkling glitter on melted gelatin, watch colorful dyes diffuse to create patterns and then use cookie cutters to punch out sticky window decorations.  Water will evaporate from the gelatin, leaving you with paper-thin “stained glass” shapes.

You can watch us making them on Kare11 Sunrise News by clicking here.

You’ll need

-plain, unflavored gelatin from the grocery store or Target

-food coloring

-a drinking straw

-water

-a ruler

-glitter

*You can use the recipe below for two pans around 8×12 inches, or use large, rimmed cookie sheets for your gelatin. For a single pan, cut the recipe in half.

Step 1. Add 6 packs of plain, unflavored gelatin (1 oz or 28 gm) to 4 cups of boiling water. Stir well until all the gelatin has dissolved and remove bubbles with a spoon.

Step 2. Allow gelatin to cool to a kid-safe temperature. Pour the liquid gelatin into two large pans so it’s around 1-1.5 cm deep. It doesn’t have to be exact.

Step 3. Sprinkle glitter on the gelatin in one pan.  What happens?
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Step 4. Allow the gelatin to harden in both pans.

Step 5. In the pan with no glitter, use a straw to create holes in the gelatin, a few cm apart, scattered across the surface. It works best to poke a straw straight into the gelatin, but not all the way to the bottom. Spin the straw and remove it. Then, use a toothpick or skewer to pull out the gelatin plug you’ve created. This will leave a perfect hole for the food coloring. Very young children may need help.
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Step 6. Add a drop of food coloring to each hole in the gelatin.
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Step 7. Let the gelatin pans sit for 24 hours. Every so often, use a ruler to measure the circle of food coloring molecules as they diffuse (move) into the gelatin around them (read about diffusion at the bottom of this post.)  How many cm per hour is the color diffusing?  Do some colors diffuse faster than others? If you put one pan in the refrigerator and an identical one at room temperature, does the food coloring diffuse at the same rate?

Step 8. When the food coloring has made colorful circles in the gelatin, use cookie cutters to cut shapes from both pans of gelatin (glitter and food coloring), carefully remove them from the pan with a spatula or your fingers, and use them to decorate a window. (Ask a parent first, since some glitter may find its way to the floor!) Don’t get frustrated if they break, since you can stick them back together on the window.
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Step 9. Observe your window jellies each day to see what happens when the water evaporates from the gelatin.
IMG_3688When they’re dry, peel them off the window. Are they thinner than when you started? Why? Can you re-hydrate them by soaking the dried shapes in water?
IMG_3691The Science Behind the Fun:

Imagine half a box filled with red balls and the other half filled with yellow ones.  If you set the box on something that vibrates, the balls will move around randomly, until the red and yellow balls are evenly mixed up.

Scientists call this process, when molecules move from areas of high concentration, where there are lots of other similar molecules, to areas of low concentration, where there are fewer similar molecules DIFFUSION. When the molecules are evenly spread throughout the space, it is called EQUILIBRIUM. 

Lots of things can affect how fast molecules diffuse, including temperature.  When molecules are heated up, they vibrate faster and move around faster, which helps them reach equilibrium more quickly than they would if it were cold. Diffusion takes place in gases like air, liquids like water, and even solids (semiconductors for computers are made by diffusing elements into one another.)

Think about the way pollutants move from one place to another through air, water and even soil. Or consider how bacteria are able to take up the substances they need to thrive. Your body has to transfer oxygen, carbon dioxide and water by processes involving diffusion as well.

Why does glitter float on gelatin? An object’s density and it’s shape help determine its buoyancy, or whether it will float or sink. Density is an object’s mass (loosely defined as its weight) divided by its volume (how much space it takes up.) A famous scientist named Archimedes discovered that any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid. Boats have to be designed in shapes that will displace, or push, at least as much water as they weigh in order to float.

For example, a 100 pound block of metal won’t move much water out of the way, and sinks fast since it’s denser than water. However , a 100 pound block of metal reshaped into a boat pushes more water out of the way and will float if you design it well!

What is the shape of your glitter? Does it float or sink in the gelatin?

Here’s a video I made for KidScience app that demonstrates how to make window gellies

Credit: My 11 YO daughter came up with the brilliant idea to stick this experiment on windows. I was just going to dry out the gelatin shapes to make ornaments. Kids are often way more creative than adults!

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!