Use science to make your holidays shine! Here are a few fun ornaments adapted from projects in my book “STEAM Lab for Kids.” Basic instructions can be found below. Buy your own copy of “STEAM Lab for Kids” anywhere books are sold to learn more about the “Science Behind the Fun!” Happy Holidays!
LED Ornaments and Jar Globes:
To make LED ornaments, buy plastic jars or ornaments with removable bases. Use sculpting clay (the kind that won’t harden) to design a scene and add LEDs connected to a coin-cell battery to light your creation. LEDs can be ordered online. See images below.
Epsom Salt Crystal Ornaments:
(Warning: Hot liquids require adult supervision.) To make the Epsom Salt crystals, dissolve 3 cups of Epsom salts in 2 cups of water by heating and stirring until no more crystals are visible. This creates a supersaturated solution. Allow the solution to cool slightly. Hang pipe cleaners formed into snowflakes in jars or hollow ornaments and pour the solution in. When long, needle-like crystals have formed, remove the pipe cleaners from the jars. You can leave them in the ornaments, and drain the liquid.
Gelatin is the substance that makes Jell-O jiggle. See what happens when food coloring molecules move, or DIFFUSE through Jell-O.
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.
-plain, unflavored gelatin from the grocery store or Target
–a drinking straw or toothpicks
*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 5. In the pan with no glitter, use a toothpick dipped in food coloring to make designs in the gelatin. Alternately, use 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.
Step 6. If you poked holes with a straw, add a drop of food coloring to each hole in the gelatin.
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.
Step 9. Observe your window jellies each day to see what happens when the water evaporates from the gelatin.
When 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?
The 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!
From surface tension to evaporation, science come into play every time you blow a bubble. Here’s some bubble science, along with a recipe for making giant bubbles from my book Outdoor Science Lab for Kids!
Water molecules like to stick to each other , and scientists call this sticky, elastic tendency “surface tension.” Soap molecules, have a hydrophobic (water-hating) end and (hydrophilic) a water-loving end and can lower the surface tension of water. When you blow a bubble, you create a thin film of water molecules sandwiched between two layers of soap molecules, with their water-loving ends pointing toward the water, and their water-hating ends pointing out into the air.
As you might guess, the air pressure inside the elastic soapy sandwich layers of a bubble is slightly higher than the air pressure outside the bubble. Bubbles strive to be round, since the forces of surface tension rearrange their molecular structure to make them have the least amount of surface area possible, and of all three dimensional shapes, a sphere has the lowest surface area. Other forces, like your moving breath or a breeze can affect the shape of bubbles as well.
The thickness of the water/soap molecule is always changing slightly as the water layer evaporates, and light is hitting the soap layers from many angles, causing light waves to bounce around and interfere with each other, giving the bubble a multitude of colors.
Try making these giant bubbles at home this summer! They’re a blast! (It works best a day when it’s not too windy, and bubbles love humid days!)
To make your own giant bubble wand, you’ll need:
-Around 54 inches of cotton kitchen twine
-two sticks 1-3 feet long
-a metal washer
1. Tie string to the end of one stick.
2. Put a washer on the string and tie it to the end of the other stick so the washer is hanging in-between on around 36 inches of string. (See photo.) Tie remaining 18 inches of string to the end of the first stick. See photo!
For the bubbles:
-6 cups distilled or purified water
-1/2 cup cornstarch
-1 Tbs. baking powder
-1 Tbs. glycerine (Optional. Available at most pharmacies.)
-1/2 cup blue Dawn. The type of detergent can literally make or break your giant bubbles. Dawn Ultra (not concentrated) or Dawn Pro are highly recommended. We used Dawn Ultra, which is available at Target.
1. Mix water and cornstarch. Add remaining ingredients and mix well without whipping up tiny bubbles. Use immediately, or stir again and use after an hour or so.
2. With the two sticks parallel and together, dip bubble wand into mixture, immersing all the string completely.
3. Pull the string up out of the bubble mix and pull them apart slowly so that you form a string triangle with bubble in the middle.
4. Move the wands or blow bubbles with your breath. You can “close” the bubbles by moving the sticks together to close the gap between strings.
What else could you try?
-Make another wand with longer or shorter string. How does it affect your bubbles?
-Try different recipes to see if you can improve the bubbles. Do other dish soaps work as well?
-Can you add scent to the bubbles, like vanilla or peppermint, or will it interfere with the surface tension?
-Can you figure out how to make a bubble inside another bubble?
Crying over broken candy canes? Cry no more. Make art!
This project is from “Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science,” by Andrew Schloss. For a cookbook full of delicious recipes and the Science-Behind-the-Fun, buy my book Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: Edible Edition here!
*Melted candy can get dangerously hot, so parental supervision is required!
-candy canes (broken or whole), wrappers removed
-heavy-duty aluminum foil
-a cookie sheet
-a wire cooling rack
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 250F.
- Cover cookie sheet with foil
- Place candy canes on foil, not touching each other
- Bake candy canes for around 10 minutes and have an adult check them. They should be stretchy, but not too hot to touch.
- When the candy canes are ready, bend, fold, twist and pull them into cool shapes. Try pulling one long and wrapping it around a chopstick to make a spiral. What else could you try?
- If the candy gets to brittle to work with, put it back in the oven for a few minutes to make it soft again.
The science behind the fun:
If you looks at the ingredients of candy canes, they’re usually made of table sugar (sucrose), corn syrup, flavoring, and food coloring. Glucose and fructose are sweet-tasting molecules that stick together to make up most of the sugars we eat, like table sugar (sucrose) and corn syrup. You can think of them as the building blocks of candy.
At room temperature, candy canes are hard and brittle, but adding heat changes the way the molecules behave. Both table sugar and corn syrup contain linked molecules of glucose and fructose, but corn syrup has much more fructose than glucose, and the fructose interferes with sugar crystal formation. According to Andrew Schloss, “the corn syrup has more fructose, which means the sugar crystals in the candy don’t fit tightly together. The crystals have space between them, which allows them to bend and move without cracking.”
Here’s a great article on the science of candy-making.
If you’re looking for holiday gifts for a science-loving kid, my books Chemistry Lab for Kids, Kitchen Science Lab for Kids and Outdoor Science Lab for Kids include over 100 fun family-friendly experiments! They’re available wherever books are sold.
(Re-posting one of our favorite experiments!)
Last spring, I went into my daughter’s first grade classroom to do the famous volcano experiment that involves mixing baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid). Unfortunately, with our hectic schedule there was no time to create a “work of art” volcano from paper mache or clay. So, we made one out of a paper bag. It was a smashing success. Note: It works just as well to use a coffee filter instead of a paper bag.
To make your own paper bag volcano, you’ll need a brown paper lunch sack (or a slightly bigger one like we used), an empty plastic water or soda bottle, a cup of vinegar, red food coloring and about a fourth of a cup of baking soda. *Cone coffee filters make great volcano cones too and work well on small plastic bottles!
Remove the lid from the bottle, invert the brown bag over it, and tear open the bottom of the bag, along the flaps. Then, loosely tape the paper sack so that it fits around the mouth of the bottle. Don’t tape it to the bottle. If you like to draw, you can decorate the bag with markers.. We squashed and tore the bottom of the bag a little, to make it look more mountain-like.
Now, remove the bottle, fill it with the vinegar and add several drops of red food coloring for your “lava.” Place the bag bag over the bottle to hide the lava container.
Place the volcano on a tray or something that will contain overflow and you’re ready for eruption!
Using a folded piece of paper or a small paper cup with the lip pinched into a spout, quickly dump all of the baking soda into your bottle to start the chemical reaction. You’ll see the volcano erupt as the baking soda combines with the vinegar to produce carbon dioxide gas, which is one of the gases spewed by real volcanoes.
If you liked this experiment, try making “fizzy balloons“ with the same ingredients (plus a balloon, of course!) If you want to learn more about carbon dioxide gas and the carbon cycle, here’s a link to a cool video from NASA that explains it using a banana and a chunk of coal.
Made corn starch frescoes from my book “Outdoor Science Lab for Kids” on @fox9morning today! Mix 2 parts cornstarch with 1 part water, pour out on baking sheet or sidewalk and paint with watercolors or food coloring! (Wear old clothes if painting with food coloring) Let frescoes dry, or wash away with a garden hose.
I joined the hosts of Twin Cities Live yesterday to show off three projects from my newest book! Chemistry for Kids is available everywhere books are sold!
With a few simple pantry items, you can throw together some serious science fun. Here’s a list of project you can do using things from the pantry and craft drawer. Just click on the blue links for instructions!
Or, head outside to do some fun outdoor science!
You can find most of these projects on my Kitchen Pantry Scientist YouTube channel!
-composition book: Makes a great science notebook to draw, record, and tape photos of experiments into.
-clear plastic cups to use as test tubes and beakers
-measuring spoons and cups
-school glue (white or clear) for making Mad Scientist’s Slime
-contact lens solution for making Borax-free Slime
-gummy worms to transform into Frankenworms
-baking soda: Can be used for a number of experiments like fizzy balloons, magic potion . Or just mix with vinegar to make carbon dioxide bubbles.
-vinegar Great for fizzy balloons , alien monster eggs and magic potion.
-balloons for fizzy balloons.
-dry yeast for yeast balloons.
-white coffee filters: can be used for magic marker chromatography, in place of a paper bag for a coffee-filter volcano or making red cabbage litmus paper.
-cornstarch:Lets you play with Cornstarch Goo, a non-newtonian fluid. Here’s the video.
-marshmallows with rubber bands and prescription bottle rings you have around the house can be used to make marshmallow catapults. My kids used theirs to make their own Angry Birds game.
-Knox gelatin and beef bouillon cubes can be used to make petri plates for culturing microbes from around the house. You can also use the gelatin for cool osmosis experiments!
-food coloring Helps you learn about surface tension by making Tie Dye Milk. Here’s the video. You can also easily make colorful sugar-water gradients that illustrate liquid density!
-drinking straws are great for NASA soda straw rockets and a carbon dioxide experiment.
If your kid likes to cook, is an artist or you want more ideas, you can order all of my science experiment books online at Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, or anywhere else books are sold!
Under the right conditions, purified water can get much colder than 32 degrees before it freezes into a solid. This “supercooled” water will instantly freeze when it touches an ice crystal.
You don’t need a special lab to make supercooled water. In fact, you can make it in your own freezer!
1. Place three 12 oz bottles of water (caps loosened and re-tightened) in the freezer. Two should be filled with purified water and one with tap water.
2. Wait 2 hours and then check them every 5 minutes. When the tap water is frozen, gently remove the other two bottles from the freezer. (Tap water freezes first, because it contains some impurities that help ice crystals form more easily.)
3. Carefully open one bottle of purified water and pour it onto a few ice cubes on a plate. The supercooled water from the bottle will instantly crystallize into ice when it hits the cubes, making slush. Try it with the second bottle. There may be some freezing time variation between freezers, so you may have to experiment to find the perfect amount of time it takes your freezer to supercool water!
You can do the same thing by putting bottled water in a cooler full of ice, salt, and water. Salt lowers the melting temperature of ice, which makes the salty ice water cold enough to freeze bottles of liquid. Try the same experiment using soda to make a slushy! (From Outdoor Science Lab for Kids-Quarry Books 2014)
Repost from Dec.19th, 2010 (Photos from Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, Quarry Books 2014)
Have you ever gotten a shock from a doorknob after shuffling across a carpet? The term “static electricity” refers to the build-up of a positive or negative electrical charge on the surface of an object. In this case, the charged object is your body. You feel an electric shock as the charge you’ve collected from the carpet jumps from your hand to the metal doorknob.
Tiny particles called electrons have negative charges and can jump from object to object. When you rub a balloon on your hair, or a comb through it, many of these electrons are stripped from your hair and move to the balloon or comb giving it a negative charge (and often leaving your hair all positively charged and standing up as the strands try to avoid each other.)
The negatively charged balloon or comb then makes a great tool for making electrons jump around!
You can easily make a contraption called an electroscope using:
-some thin aluminum foil or mylar (the shiny stuff balloons and candy wrappers are made from)
-a balloon or comb.
- Cut the cardboard to fit over the mouth of the jar, poke the nail through the cardboard, tape on two long, thin strips of foil or mylar (see photo) and place the whole thing in the jar so the foil strips hang down, touching each other.
2. Charge your balloon or comb by rubbing it on your hair or clothing to give it a negative charge. Bring the charged object close to the nail head. You don’t even have to touch it!
What happened? Some negatively-charged electrons jump from the comb to the nail and into the strips of foil. The negative charge on the comb will push electrons (which are also negatively charged) down to the foil/mylar and give both strips a negative charge. The two strips try to move away from one another as the like charges repelled each other.
What happens when you make the strips out of different materials like paper? Are there other charged objects you can use to make your foil strips “dance”?
You can also bend a thin stream of water from the faucet by holding your charged comb next to it. The water is uncharged and is pulled toward the negative charge of the comb.
Try making small pieces of tissue paper float or dance by holding a charged comb or balloon next to them! We filled an empty soda bottle with tiny pieces of foil and made them jump around with a charged comb held close to the bottle.