Between working on a follow-up to Kitchen Science Lab for Kids (which involves testing, writing up and photographing 52 experiments), driving my kids around to camps and sports, and doing science outreach at libraries, bookstores and on TV, I’m finding it hard to keep up. Here’s a short video on how to make tie-dye milk (a surface tension experiment), which I did on WCCO Mid Morning show last week and forgot to post!
Luckily, between all the camps and activities, the kids and I are having fun digging in the dirt, blowing giant bubbles, and watching tadpoles and monarch caterpillars go through metamorphosis!
What science experiments are you doing this summer? It’s a great time to take science outdoors!
Here are some of our favorites:
Hungry? Build a solar oven from a pizza box and bake s’mores.
Stand on eggs or throw them as hard as you can without breaking them. You can always clean up mistakes with your hose!
And no summer would be complete at our house without an epic marshmallow shooting competition. You’ll even learn some physics!
Every fossil has a story to tell.
Whether it’s the spectacular specimen of a dinosaur curled up on it’s eggs or a tiny Crinoid ring, mineralized remains offer us a snapshot of the past, telling us not only what creatures lived where, but about how they lived and the world they inhabited.
Growing up surrounded by the flat-topped, windswept Flint Hills of Kansas, it was hard to imagine that I was living in the bottom of an ancient seabed, but there was evidence of the Permian period all around.
Now, when my kids and I return to my hometown, a fossil-hunting trip is always part of our routine, and we hunt for shells and coral where roads cut through crumbling limestone and and chert (flint.) Looking up at layer after layer of rock and shells, I can almost feel the weight of the water that once covered the land.
An episode of RadioLab we heard on the drive North from Kansas to Minnesota explained that coral keeps time and that by comparing modern coral to ancient coral fossils, scientists discovered that millions of years ago, years were about 40 days shorter than they are now. Can you guess why? Give the podcast a listen here. My mind was blown!
A visit to the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, KS gave us more insight into the amazing geology, ecology and anthropology of the Flint Hills and the Konza Prairie that blankets them. Most people don’t know that the great tallgrass prairies of the United States wouldn’t exist if not for humans, who have been burning them for thousands of years.
What do you know about where you live? What’s it like now? What do you think it was like long, long ago? Are there fossils nearby?
Here are some fossil-hunting resources I found online, in case you want to go exploring:
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!
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!
This morning, on Kare11 Sunrise, I showed off my new book, Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, and demonstrated three experiments from the book. Just click on the experiment name for directions, photos and more about the science!
Frankenworms– Bring gummy worms to “life” using a chemical reaction.
Magic Bags– Explore the elastic properties of polymers.
Leaf Chromatography– Separate plant pigments on coffee filters.
This is especially fun in the fall, when you can compare green leaves to red and yellow ones! Here’s a nice article on the chemistry of the colors of fall leaves (from the Compound Interest website) that my friend Joanne Manaster highlighted on her Joanne Loves Science Facebook page.
This week, abulleyeview.com featured three of my favorite summer science experiments and I showed Twin Cities Live viewers how to make nature walk bracelets and green slime! (Oh yeah, we also broke a few eggs.)
What summer science experiments have you tried?
Don’t forget to download KidScience app for more great ideas! We just added a new experiment and have another one on the way!
We collected some moss and lichens this weekend at the cabin, so we can look for amazing creatures called tardigrades hiding in the clumps. You may have heard about these extremophiles on Cosmos (they can survive heat, cold, drought, radiation and even space. Click here for some nice close-ups of what we’re looking for. I’ll let you know what we find!
Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22nd. How will you celebrate the amazing planet that sustains us? Here’s a link to ten fun Earth Day science experiments. Or, step outside, take a picture of yourself and post it on social media with the hashtag #GlobalSelfie for a new mosaic image of Earth being created by NASA: a new “Blue Marble” built bit by bit with your photos.
If you live in Minnesota, join me at the Science Museum of Minnesota Tuesday morning from 10-12 to celebrate Earth Day and NASA Climate Day with some games and a hands-on experiment for kids!
#SpaceMicrobes, including our own Minnesota microbe swabbed from the Kare11 television studio, have arrived safely on the International Space Station. Over the next few days, 48 microbes swabbed from sports stadiums and other cool locations will be thawed out and start to grow! Astronauts will measure their growth using a machine called a microplate reader, over a period of three days. The experiment will be repeated three times, and scientists will average the data and compare it to the data they’ve collected doing an identical experiment with the same microbes here on Earth! I talked about it on Kare11 the other day.
Finally, here’s a fun experiment we did with a water bottle and a laser pointer this weekend. Try it!
skullsinthestars.com has a detailed explanation of this amazing phenomenon!
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.
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.
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.
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 called “It’s OK to Be Smart . The poster is funny, but kind of sad if you love science. It inspired me to share a few tips on making science fairs less painful for parents and to 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 KidScience app and in my book Kitchen Science Lab for Kids.
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?
Oil Spill Experiment: See why oil is so hard to clean up. What works best to remove it from water and feathers?
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!