Did you know you can use science to make amazing works of art in Jell-O? I created this experiment to make Star Wars Jell-O, but you can take it in whatever direction you want. Remember, you’ll need agar, lots of Jell-O and some coconut milk to start experimenting! If your agar figures break, you can fill in the cracks with more melted agar! I ordered the silicone Star Wars molds on Amazon.com.
Here’s the science part: Agar is a substance extracted from the cell walls of red algae. It’s often used in cooking and science experiments. Agar has a higher melting temperature than the gelatin used to make Jell-O. So, if you put a piece of agar gel into melted Jell-O, the agar won’t melt unless the Jell-O is really hot (about 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 65 degrees Celsius!) That means you can create works of agar art to embed in your favorite Jell-O. We used silicone molds, cookie cutters and a molecular gastronomy technique called oil spherification to make our agar decorations. To make the orbs using spherification, you simple drip coconut milk agar through cold oil, forming perfect spheres that solidify as they fall. We talked with Astronaut Abby on Kare11 Sunrise about how you could make these orbs in space. Click here to see the segment.
Vegetarians like to eat agar, since it’s made from algae and not animals. In labs, scientists use agar to make petri dishes for growing microorganisms, since it won’t melt at high temperatures in incubators. They also use it to make gels for electrophoresis, to separate DNA and RNA molecules by size!
*If you want to make white orbs from the coconut milk agar, you’ll need to plan ahead and chill tall jar or glass of vegetable oil in the freezer until it is thick and almost frozen. You’ll also need some squeeze bottles or clean eyedroppers.
Coconut Milk Agar -To create your white decorations and mini orbs, mix up this coconut milk agar dessert.
2 1/2 cups water
4 Tbs Agar flakes from Asian section of grocery store or COOP
1 cup coconut milk (not lowfat) Mix the coconut milk well before you measure it.
4 Tbs. sugar
In a sauce pan or the microwave, heat 4 Tbs. agar in 2 and 1/2 cups water until the agar is completely dissolved. Adult supervision required.
To the agar mixture, add 1 cup coconut milk and 4 Tbs. sugar. Mix Well. Pour into molds, pour into a pan to cut shapes out with cookie cutters, or pour some into a squeeze bottle to make white orbs.
Coconut Milk Orbs (optional cool science experiment
Slowly drip melted coconut milk agar (above) through ice-cold vegetable oil. As it fall through the oil, it should harden and form orbs. Collect the orbs with a slotted spoon and rinse before adding to your Jell-O.
Follow the directions on the package for the speed set method. If you make a double batch, pour half of it into the bottom of a large, glass casserole dish or bowl. If it’s a single batch, pour the whole thing in. If you made coconut milk orbs, put some in the melted Jell-O to see whether they float or sink. Let the Jell-O solidify and arrange your agar decorations on the Jell-O.
Make or remelt more Jell-O. When it’s cooled down a bit, pour it over your decorations to trap them in the Jell-O. You may want to leave them sticking out a little, or cover them completely with Jell-O over them for effect.
What else could you try? What Jell-O masterpiece can you create?
If I give you glue, water and Borax, can you come up with a recipe for perfect polymer slime based solely on what you know about the science?
Last week, I did hands-on science with 150 third graders at Success Beyond the Classroom’s Creativity Festival at the University of Minnesota. As they came into the room, I asked them to draw a picture on chalkboard of anything related to science. They drew test tubes, trees, volcanoes, and even scientists!
Then we dug into the science. After doing my favorite large group hands-on experiment with purple cabbage juice to warm them up, I announced that we’d be making polymer slime, but that they would have to invent the recipe for the perfect goo.
To begin with, I talked about the science. We learned that one ingredient in the slime is glue (polyvinyl acetate), which is a polymer, or long chain of molecules. Then, we talked about the fact that adding water to the glue makes it less viscous, or thick. As usual, I had them repeat the vocabulary after me. Finally, I explained that the sodium tetraborate in Borax laundry detergent is a cross-linking substance that makes glue molecules stick together, and that we’d mixed up some Borax and water for them to use as a crosslinker for the slime.
Their challenge was to come up with one “recipe” to make a gooey, soft slime and a second recipe for a harder, rubber-like slime that could be rolled into bouncy balls. They each had a note card and pencil to keep track of their work, plastic teaspoons as measuring tools and paper cups for mixing slime. First, they’d stir up different proportions of glue and water, and then they’d add the Borax solution as a cross linker and mix it all together with a popsicle stick. To make it a little more colorful, they could add a drop of food coloring or some cabbage juice.
Needless to say, there were failures and successes and the kids had a blast. We talked about the fact that experiments often don’t work on the first try, and each kid explained to the group how they’d made their perfect slime as they demonstrated how it bounced and stretched.