I’ve always wanted to try paper marbling and knew there must be some science involved. So, we gave it a go, and the results were stunning!
We tried two methods: one with liquid starch (made from cornstarch) and tempera paint, and another with a marbling kit. Both worked well, but look very different.
The Science Behind the Fun: Water molecules like to stick together, a property which scientists call surface tension. This property allows very thin layers of ink to float on water, mixing in beautiful patterns when you break the surface tension with detergent, a tool like a paintbrush, or movement. To marble paper, you have to use dye or paint that floats on the water where it can be easily transferred to paper. Alternately, you can make the liquid underneath more dense than the dye or paint, to help the dye float.
When transferring the ink or paint designs, it helps to use paper that’s been coated with a chemical called a mordant, that combines with substances (usually dyes) to make large molecules that stay in one place. (Iodine is another mordant, which is used to stain bacteria.)
Here’s a video of my 10YO making designs using the pre-made marbling kit…(More info at the bottom of this post.)
Since I like to do experiments using non-toxic, inexpensive ingredients most people have on hand, we first tried a method that uses cornstarch to thicken the bottom liquid layer and tempera paint as the dye. It requires pre-treatment of paper, like inexpensive watercolor paper from Target, with the mordant aluminum sulfate (alum), which you can find at your local coop or grocery store.
-watercolor paper (cheap stuff from Target works just fine)
-two large, flat trays, like 9×13 pans
-2 tps. Alum (aluminum sulfate crystals)
-a sponge brush
-2 Tbs. corn starch
-tempura paint (the more colors, the merrier)
- Dissolve 2 tsp alum in 3/4 cup water. Avoid inhaling powder.
- Mark one side of your watercolor paper with an A and use a sponge brush to apply alum solution evenly to that side of the paper.
- Let the paper dry overnight, or speed drying with a blow dryer.
- Make a double recipe of liquid starch by dissolving 4 Tbs. corn starch in 1/2 cup cold water. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a sauce pan. Add the cornstarch solution to the water, stir well and boil for 1 minute. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Pour 3 cups of the hot liquid starch into one 9×13 pan and let cool.
- Pour 3 cups of cold water into the other pan.
- Prepare paint by mixing tempura paint with water until it has the consistency of half-and-half or whole milk.
- When starch is cool, drip paint onto the surface of the starch using an eyedropper, or something similar. Rinse dropper between colors.
- Swirl paint, or use toothpicks to drag out patterns.
- Carefully place your paper on the paint, alum side-down. Let it sit for a minute or two.
- Carefully peel the paper off of the paint and gently place it, face up, in the water pan. Let it sink and move it back an forth gently to rinse off excess paint.
- Set the paper on a piece of newspaper to dry.
- Make more marble paper in the same paint pan. When you’re ready, repeat using the rest of the cornstarch.
The Innovation marbling kit (Boku-Undo Suminagashi) from DickBlick.com pictured below includes pre-made low density dyes that you drip onto a tiny floating disc of paper in a tray of water. It’s tons of fun and yields beautiful results. I got the kit at Blick art supplies, and used the paper they recommended, which may have been pre-treated with a mordant.
I learned how to make this fun, clay-based paint at the Minnesota State Fair’s Eco Experience Progress Center. It’s colored with natural pigments(pigments are molecules that give things color) and doesn’t give off the same chemical fumes as some of the paints you might find in a hardware store. I love the earthy colors you can mix up with elemental pigments like iron oxide, zinc oxide and black iron oxide. It’s fun to mix up a little blue too, using Ultramarine Blue dried pigments.
To make this paint, you’ll need:
EPK powdered clay (also called EPK Kaolin) -Can be ordered online. We got ours at continentalclay.com.
dried pigments, like the ones I mention above. -We got ours at dickblick.com
Safety tips: Check the warnings on dried pigments before you purchase them. Some are toxic and must be handled carefully. Avoid inhaling pigments.
To make your paint:
1. In a bowl, stir together 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup cold water. Mix well.
2. Add 1/4 cup hot water and mix well.
3. Add 1/4 cup EPK powdered clay and stir until smooth.
4. Continue adding flour and water until the paint has the consistency you want.
5. Divide the paint into several containers and mix in pigment for color.
6. Use paint on paper or canvas.
7. Paint may be stored in the refrigerator for a week or so.
Our eight Monarch caterpillars were in chrysalises when we returned from our vacation, and yesterday the first of them emerged! We were lucky enough to catch it on our iPhone time-lapse, which makes everything look faster than it actually happens. You’ll be amazed at how the butterfly pumps fluid from its body to expand its beautiful orange and black wings.
Our neighbor brought us some Monarch Caterpillars the other day, and we found a tiny one in our garden. They’re now happily munching away on milkweed on our screened-in porch, safe from birds!
Here’s a short video on how to find and raise caterpillars, via my new book, Outdoor Science Lab for Kids.
We supersized the foaming slime experiment from Outdoor Science Lab for Kids to make a giant foaming slime volcano. And it was awesome!
This summer, get off screens and get outside!
Outdoor Science Lab for Kids: 52 Experiments for the Yard, Garden, Playground and Park hit real and virtual bookshelves this week! To celebrate, I’m posting this video we took a few weeks ago of one of my favorite experiments from the new book.
Can’t wait for your copy of the book to arrive before you try this out? Here’s how to make water rockets.
Sodium alginate (Say it like you say algae!) is a substance found in the cell walls of brown algae, including seaweeds and kelp. Its rubbery, gel-like consistency may be important for the flexibility of seaweed, which gets tossed around on ocean waves.
Here on dry land, you can use sodium alginate to make edible balloon-like blobs that are liquid in the middle. We can thank scientists for this delicious project, since they discovered that a chemical reaction between sodium alginate and calcium causes the alginate to polymerize, or form a gel. In this experiment, the gel forms on the outside of a sodium alginate blob, where the chemical reaction is taking place. The inside of the blob remains liquid!
No heat is required for this experiment, making it safe and fun for all ages!
Sodium alginate and calcium lactate can be tricky to find at the grocery store, so you’ll probably have to order them online. But they’re not very expensive, and you’ll have lots of fun playing with them!
-a blender or hand blender (parental supervision required for small children)
-1/2 tsp sodium alginate
-2 tsp calcium lactate
-flavored drink drops, like Kool-Aid or Tang (optional)
You can try making these with juice, but if there is any calcium in the juice, you may end up with foam in your blender, since it may start to polymerize the sodium alginate when you blend it in.
- Add 1 and 1/2 cup water to the blender.
- To the water, add 1/2 tsp. sodium alginate.
- Blend for about a minute, and let rest for 15 or 20 minutes, until the bubbles are gone.
- If you want to add flavor, divide the sodium alginate solution into small containers and stir in the flavor, like a squirt of Kool-Aid liquid.
- Add 4 cups of water to a clean, clear glass bowl or container.
- To the water, add 2 tsp. calcium lactate and mix until completely dissolved. This is your calcium lactate “bath.”
- Fill a spoon, like a tablespoon, with the sodium alginate solution, and slowly lower it down into the calcium lactate bath. You’ll see a gel begin to form. Gently turn the spoon so the sodium alginate falls off the spoon and into the calcium lactate.
- After about 30 seconds, you’ll be able to see a pale blob in the water. Leave it there for three or four minutes. You can make several edible balloons at once.
- When the blobs are ready, use a spoon to carefully remove them from the bath and put them in a clean bowl of water for a few seconds to rinse them off.
- Put your edible balloons on a plate and taste them. What do you think?
Now that you know how to polymerize sodium alginate with calcium, what else could you try? Can you make a foam in the blender? Can you make gummy worms in the bath using the rest of your sodium alginate solution? Can you invent something entirely new??? Try it!
Thank you to Andrew Schloss’s book Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science for the experiment inspiration! Adding the Kool-Aid and Tang drops to add a little flavor and color was our idea!
Looking for some Earth Day fun? Here are some of our favorite environmental science experiments. Just click on the experiment names for directions and photos. You can find more fun outdoor experiments in my books “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids” and “Outdoor Science Lab for Kids” (Quarry Books.)
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!
Nature Walk Bracelets: Wrap some duct tape around your wrist (inside out) and take a walk, sticking interesting natural objects like leaves and flowers to your bracelet. It’s a great way to get outdoors and engage with nature!
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.
Diffusion and Osmosis: See for yourself 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.
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, or just get outside and enjoy the beautiful planet that sustains and nurtures us.
Spring is egg season. You may prefer dyed eggs, hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs, or even dinosaur eggs. 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!
Spring break is right around the corner!
Here are three experiments that will appear in my upcoming book Outdoor Science Lab for Kids (Quarry Books, June 2016) to keep get kids off screens and into some science. Click on the experiment name to go to my original blog post, instuctions and more about the science behind the fun.