Growing Alum Crystals in Eggshells

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

It only takes a spark to start a fire, and it only takes one atom to act as a seed for crystal formation. Under the right conditions, the atoms in alum will join together like puzzle pieces to form large crystals. I posted a few years ago about how to grow a large alum crystal, but this experiment is even more fun. It’s also easier for young kids, since it takes less small-motor coordination.

Alum is also called  potassium aluminum sulfate. It’s used in pickling and in found in baking powder. You can grow beautiful alum crystals at home with a few jars of alum, water and any object you don’t mind covering with glue. We made fake geodes by breaking eggs in half and washing them out, but we also encrusted a grape stem and a plastic shark.

To do this experiment, you’ll need glue, 3/4 cup alum from the spice section of the grocery store (4 or 5 small jars should do it,) water and whatever you want to coat with crystals. It takes three days to complete.

On day one, paint glue on the objects you want to grow crystals on. If you’re making “geodes”, apply a thin layer of glue to the inside of an eggshell that’s been cut in half, washed out and dried.  Then, sprinkle a little alum powder on the glue and let it dry overnight.  We heavily coated our object with alum, but might have grown larger crystals if we’d used less. Each alum particle acts as a seed for crystal growth. The closer together they are, the less room your crystals will have to grow.

On day two, dissolve 3/4 cup alum in 2 cups of water by boiling. This step requires adult supervision. Make sure all the alum dissolves (it may still look a little cloudy) and let the solution cool. This is your supersaturated alum solution.

After about 30 minutes, when the solution is cool enough to be safely handled, gently immerse your object in the alum solution.  For color, you can add a large squirt of food coloring. Let your project sit overnight to grow crystals.

On day three, gently remove your object from the alum solution and let it dry.  How does it look? Draw it or take a picture to put in your science notebook!

Crystals are geometric networks of atoms. Imagine a three dimensional chain-link fence, and you’ll get the picture. Certain crystals will only grow in certain shapes.  For example, diamonds are always cube-shaped when they form. Whether the atoms have joined to form a small diamond, or a large one, it will always be in the shape of a cube!

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 could you try? Could you do the same experiment with salt, or sugar crystals? How do you think the color gets incorporated into the crystal? Do you think the food coloring disrupts the shape? Will larger crystals grow if you let your object sit in the solution longer?

You can read more about crystals and gems here.

SpaceX Dragon and Lunar Eclipse

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

It’s a big day for science lovers!

Not only will there be a total lunar eclipse in the wee hours of Tuesday morning (around 2:00-3:30 a.m. Central Time), but this afternoon at 4:58 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (3:58 CDT) a SpaceX/Dragon Cargo Craft will launch from Cape Canaveral, FL to the International Space Station!

A lunar eclipse will be visible early Tuesday morning from much of the United States. Image from CNN.com.

The SpaceX rocket will carry SpaceMicrobes from project MERCCURi and space veggies, among other science projects. You can watch launch coverage from 2:45PM – 5PM CST  on NASA TV.

A bacterium we swabbed on the set of Kare11 Sunrise is headed to the space station!

I’d love to write more, but am busy proofreading lasers of my Kitchen Science Lab for Kids book, that comes out Aug.1 and getting ready to go on Kare11 Sunrise tomorrow morning to show viewers how to grow crystals in eggshells!

Young Scientist Challenge

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Can kids in middle school come up with world-changing inventions? Absolutely. 


Most 5-8th graders don’t have free access to labs full of chemicals and equipment, which is probably a good thing, but they’re armed with more curiosity and creativity than most adults. When given the opportunity and encouragement to let their imaginations run wild, kids come up with the most amazing ideas.

The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge helps address the gap between idea and reality, and offers kids amazing incentives to come up with big ideas. The competition encourages kids in middle school to make two-minute videos about their ideas for using science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) to solve real-life problems. The videos are judged based on

  • Creativity (ingenuity and innovative thinking) (30%);
  • Scientific knowledge (30%);
  • Persuasiveness and effective communication (20%); and
  • Overall presentation (20%).

3M‘s  Innovation Page gives overviews of how their scientists are impacting our daily lives, and some of  their scientists will mentor the contest’s ten finalists, helping them envision how to take their creations from dream to reality. Ten finalists will travel to the 3M Innovation Center for the final competition.  

Want to enter? Here’s the link: http://www.youngscientistchallenge.com/enter.

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It seemed like the best way to learn about how kids come up with ideas was to ask my own two middle schoolers if they’d like to enter the contest, so I asked them to think about problems that they could help solve with STEM. They were less than excited until I showed them a few of the videos from the Young Scientist Challenge website. Like me, they were blown away by what Peyton Robertson and Deepika Kurup created to win the 2012 and 2013 Young Scientist Challenge and decided, without any prodding from me, that they wanted to come up with their own ideas.

My son, who is a voracious reader of all things science, and is somewhat obsessed with meteorology, immediately knew what particular area he wanted to focus on. It took a few days, but now he’s got a great idea and is working to make a model to test.

My oldest daughter was another story. She likes science, but spends much more time thinking about acting, basketball, photography, her friends, and our German Wirehaired Pointer.  She quickly got frustrated and worried that she didn’t know enough about science to come up with a good idea. To encourage her, I asked her to think about how she could solve a health problem in animals, prevent basketball injuries, make a camera app, or solve an environmental problem. She decided to try to think of something people throw away and use it for something really great. While researching ocean trash, she came up with another idea, addressing a water pollution problem and is excited to test out her idea.

They need to get going, since the entry deadline is April 22nd, but I know they can do it, and love the ideas they’ve come up with!

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the contest @DE3MYSC and join us for #STEMchat on Twitter April 8 from 9 – 10 PM Eastern as we talk about How to Raise America’s Top Young Scientist (this is the title earned by the winner of the DE 3M YSChallenge.)

Although I don’t usually write sponsored posts, I made an exception for this contest, since I think it’s a fantastic way to get kids excited about STEM. This post is sponsored by the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Dinosaur Science

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Today on Twin Cities Live, we did some dinosaur-related science experiments in honor of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s new Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit.

Here are directions for doing the experiments in the video. Just click on the name to go to the post.

Alien Monster Eggs

Window Stickies diffusion experiment

Paper Bag Volcanos

Have fun!

Egg Science

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Spring is the season for eggs. You may prefer dyed eggs, deviled eggs, or even dinosaur eggs, if you live close to the Science Museum of Minnesota’s new Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit.

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No matter what kind of eggs you like best, you’ll love these eggsperiments that let you play with the amazing architecture of eggs, dissolve their shells and even dye them with the pigments found in your refrigerator. Just click on experiments for directions and the science behind the fun!

Dissolve eggshells with vinegar and play with osmosis when you make “Alien Monster Eggs.”

Dye eggs with spices, fruits and vegetables,

or dye them with red cabbage juice and use lemon juice and baking soda to paint them.

You can stand on a carton of eggs to test their strength.

For a fun physics experiment, throw eggs at a hanging sheet.

Make egg-eating monsters and watch atmospheric pressure push eggs up into a bottle.

Egg drops are a fun way to test your engineering prowess. 

Grow alum crystals in eggshells to create beautiful geode-like works of art. 

Finally, here’s a little more about the science of hard-boiled eggs.

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Foaming Lava Lamps

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Oil and water don’t mix, which comes in handy for this fun science experiment! Play with density and chemical reactions when you try this foaming, bubbling experiment that uses an effervescent tablet like Alka-Seltzer to make carbon dioxide bubbles ooze up through a thick layer of oil. (Adult supervision required, since Alka-Seltzer contains aspirin.)

We made these on Kare11 Sunrise News. Click here to watch.

Fill a bottle 1/4 full with water or vinegar*. Add food coloring (or red cabbage juice) to the water or vinegar.

Fill the bottle almost to the top with vegetable (or other) oil. Note how the oil floats on the water, since it’s less dense.

Finally, add an effervescent tablet to the liquid in the bottle and watch the chemical reaction. When the citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in the tablet react with the water and each other, they make something new: carbon dioxide gas, or CO2. The CO2 bubbles carry some of the colorful liquid up through the oil with them, but the dense liquid quickly sinks back down to the bottom.

*Vinegar reacts with the sodium bicarbonate the Alka-Seltzer, making extra carbon dioxide bubbles!

For a fun variation, put a balloon over the top of your bottle after adding the Alka-Seltzer to trap the carbon dioxide gas and inflate the balloon. If the balloon looks like it’s about to pop, remove it from the bottle.

#SpaceMicrobes

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

A soil bacterium we swabbed last spring on the set of Twin Cities’ Kare11 News is headed to the International Space Station! Even though we collected it here in Minnesota, Streptomyces kanamyceticus (we’ll call it S.kan for short) was first isolated from dirt in Japan.

It’s a very cool bacterium. Not only does it grow in really interesting colonies like the ones you see in the photo below, but it produces an antibiotic called Kanamycin that’s widely use in research, industry and medicine. Our #MinnesotaMicrobe takes off on March 16th from Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX-3 rocket! Follow the mission on Project MERCURRI’s website, here on my blog, or using the #spacemicrobes hashtag on Twitter.

After we sent our sample off in the mail, it was swabbed onto bacterial growth medium and these cool little colonies were grown by the scientists from Project MERCURRI, alongside other samples swabbed from NFL and NBA stadiums, NASA spacecraft, and even from a candy jar at Kare11′s sister NBC studio at the Today Show. Around 40 of the samples were chosen to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) for a “Superbowl” of microbes. Scientists want to study how the bacteria grow and change in space and want to get the public excited about the project.

Why should we care how bacteria grow on the ISS, or on any spacecraft?

Microbes behave oddly out in space, and when humans exit Earth’s atmosphere, we carry microscopic  inhabitants along with us. Tiny terrestrials (mostly bacteria) outnumber our bodies’ own cells by about ten to one, and microbes too small to see with the naked eye cover everything you around you, assuming you don’t live in a sterile bubble.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a funny little bacterium that smells like grapes and loves water, grows differently in microgravity. These bacteria form slime layers called biofilms and can cause problems for extraterrestrial toilets and water systems, like the ones on the International Space Station (ISS). Here on Earth, P. aeruginosa can make people who have been badly burned and people with cystic fibrosis (CF) really sick.

NASA also discovered that spending  time on the International Space Station made Salmonella bacteria, which cause food poisoning, more virulent. In other words, they can make you sicker.

By studying what happens to terrestrial bacteria in space, scientists can discover new ways to fight infectious disease on Earth and hope to prevent mechanical and medical disasters on future space missions. Microbes may even offer ways to clean up waste in space or generate new medications mid-mission. After all, it will take a long time to get to Mars, and it may be a one-way trip for the first humans to travel there!

If you want to make your own microbial growth plates at home to see what’s growing around your house, you can find directions and a video on how to do it here. In the next week or so, I’ll post instructions for a cool new microbiology experiment that I’ve been thinking about. 

 

 

Science Fairs Made Simple (For Parents)

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Parents are under a ridiculous amount pressure to make sure kids finish homework, practice for music lessons and make it to sporting events, among other things. I saw the photo below on Facebook yesterday, and then again in a post on an awesome science blog calledIt’s OK to Be Smart . The poster is funny, but kind of sad if you love science. It  inspired me to attempt to help fellow parents by compiling a list of some of my favorite simple experiments. Most of them use ingredients you have on hand and you can also find these experiments and more, like DNA extraction from strawberries, on my KidScience app.

Is the science fair really that bad?<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
I&#8217;ve seen this pic shared a few times today, originally from someone named Susan Messina on Facebook. Susan and family clearly had a bad experience with the science fair and made a little joke out of it, but it got me thinking: Is it really that bad these days?<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
I know classroom schedules are more crowded than ever before, with less space for the free work and experiment time that it takes to really do a science fair project well, and most importantly, to enjoy it.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
The experience of doing a science fair project can be an amazing early scientific experience, but it&#8217;s been a long time since I&#8217;ve been science-fair-aged, and I want to know:<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Does your school or district still have a science fair? Is it required? Is it competition-focused? Is classroom time set aside to work on projects? Is it valuable? Is it fun? Should it be improved? How?

Parents: Insist that kids take the reins on their science fair projects. Let them look through this list of experiments, and then sit down with them for five minutes and tell them to think about how you can take simple experiments like these to the next level by applying them to real life. (For example, how could you test whether soap or hand sanitizer removes more of the microbes you can grow on a homemade petri dish?) What might happen if you change the variables, like how much water you use, the temperature or even the materials used in the original experiment? 

Kids: Here are a few ideas to get you started. Just click on the experiment name or the blue typeface to follow the link to instructions, photos and videos of the experiments. Choose one that you have the ingredients for and try it! You shouldn’t need help for most of these unless you have to boil something.  Lots of them even have a video you can watch, if you’re not sure about one of the steps.  My kids and I have tested them all and you can leave a comment here if you have any questions. Do more research into the science behind what you’re doing and think about how you could apply this experiment to something in real life.

Diffusion Experiment See how food coloring or other liquids diffuse through gelatin. You could even do this with yellow or orange jello if you don’t have plain. How can you change the rate of diffusion?  Think about how the chemicals we add to water, put on our streets to melt ice, and spray on our lawns and crops can move into our soil, ground water, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Microbial Zoos  Sample different surfaces with a cotton swab, or do a hand washing experiment, and grow the microbes on a homemade petri plate. (You’ll need some agar for this, so it may require a trip to the store.) Here’s a video on how to make the plates. 

Vegetable Vampires See how plants take up water using the forces of physics. Does this experiment work better with some plants than others?

Shocking Machine Make an electrophorus and Leyden jar to shock your friends! Here’s how to do it. We demonstrated it on Kare11!

Frankenworms This is a fun candied chemical reaction. Gummy worms soaked in baking soda and water come to “life” when you drop them into vinegar! Click here for directions and a video.

Oil Spill Experiment: See why oil is so hard to clean up. What works best to remove it from water and feathers?

Goblin Goo (All you need is cornstarch and water. Here’s a video on how to make the goo.  You can add a little food coloring to the water if you want, but it may stain your hands!)

Magic Bag (If you have ziplock baggies, water, red food coloring and skewers, you can do this experiment!) Here’s the video.

Fizzy Balloons (After we made Goblin Goo, I demonstrated how to make Fizzy Balloon Monster heads. Click here to watch.)

Magic Potion (Bubbly, stinky Halloween fun: I made a short video on how to make magic potion. Click here to watch it

Mad Scientist’s Green Slime (To see a TV segment where we made Mad Scientist’s Green Slime, click here!) Here’s another video.

Apple Mummies (Here’s a link to a TV segment where the kids and I demonstrated how to make Apple Mummies.  Click here.)

Alien Monster Eggs (These make a great centerpiece for a Halloween party, when you’re done playing with them.) I demonstrated how to make them on Kare 11! Click here to watch the video.

Marshmallow Slingshots Lob Marshmallow eyeballs and spiders at a pumpkin or another target in this fun physics experiment. Do different size rubber bands make a difference?

Window Sprouts: Plant a bean in a plastic baggie with a damp paper towel to see how plants need only water and air to sprout roots and leaves.  Here’s a short video demonstrating how to make a window garden.

Homemade Solar Oven: Using a pizza box, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and newspaper, you can harness the sun’s energy to cook your own S’mores!

Carbon Dioxide and Ocean Acidity: See for yourself how the carbon dioxide in your own breath can make a water-based solution more acidic. It’s the same reason too much carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere can be bad for our oceans.

Plant Transpiration:  See how trees “sweat” in this survival science experiment.

Earthworm Experiment:  Do you know what kind of earthworms are living in your back yard?

Composting: Be a composting detective. Bury some things in your back yard (away from power cables) and dig them up in a few months to see how they look. Composting reduces methane gas emissions (a greenhouse gas) from dumps.

Solar Water Purification: This project illustrates the greenhouse effect and is a fun “survival science” experiment. Requires hot sun and some patience!

Citizen Science: Don’t forget about all the real environmental research projects you can participate in through Citizen Science programs all around the world!

For mores activities and games, check out NASA’s Climate Kids website, to see a kid-friendly diagram of the water cycle, click here.

Sub-Zero Science

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

It’s been cold in Minnesota. The governor closed all the schools today in anticipation of a high temperature of around 15 below, and a low of close to 30 below in the Twin Cities. And it gets colder as you go North. This morning on Kare 11 Sunrise, we threw boiling water in the air, froze foaming soap, blew ice bubbles and experimented with bologna at 20 below to see why tongues stick to cold metal.

We did the boiling water experiment at the cabin a few weeks ago when it was a balmy 18 below. As you can see, the low viscosity of the water, and the fact that it’s about to evaporates causes most of it to instantly freeze into a snowy fog and a shower of tiny ice crystals.

Stay warm!

Cabin Fever Science

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

School closed because it’s 20 below?

Here are five fun experiments to do while you’re stuck inside today. No trip to the store required. Just click on the experiment name for directions!

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Marshmallow Slingshots

Magic Bag

Egg in a Bottle

Lifting an Ice Cube with a String

Tie Dye Milk

Download KidScience app (it’s free) on your iPhone, iPod or iPad for more easy experiments, like cornstarch goo and zooming fish.