Category Archives: Informal Science Education

5 Non-Volcano Kids’ Science Activities Using Vinegar

Want science activities using vinegar? Look no further than Classroom Thumb War with DJ.

Vinegar is a smelly staple of science educators everywhere. The solution of acetic acid is the most often-used, simple acidic solution in the lab, and it’s non-toxic and safe to be handled. It’s no wonder that vinegar is a key component of tons of activities and projects for all sorts of chemically based experiences. What’s that? You only know that classic vinegar and baking soda volcano? C’mon, science-based blog reader!

The dinosaurs are a nice touch, though.
The dinosaurs are a nice touch, though.                                                                                                     (Source)

There are better, more exciting uses for that funky fluid. We’ll help you out with a few ideas to take your vinegar from dull to delightful with these science activities using vinegar. Did I mention that all of the materials are readily available at most stores (if you don’t already have it at home or in class)?


 5. Flame Light Relight

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If you weren’t aware of just what makes the old science fair volcano “erupt,” it’s the production of carbon dioxide gas from the combination of baking soda and vinegar. Now, what’s a fantastic use of carbon dioxide? If you said, “Warming the global climate,” you’re correct, but mistaking this blog post for a political rant.

But if you said, “Extinguishing flames!” you’re even more correct and definitely thinking on the right tracks.

Consider that fire as good as out!
Consider that fire as good as out!      (Source)

The CO2 gas produced from the most basic of acid-base reactions is exactly what you need to perform the Flame Light Relight activity. You’ll also need to commandeer a bit of yeast and hydrogen peroxide but everything for the activity should be at your disposal or easily purchased at a store.

The smoke is really just the bubbles screaming.
The smoke is really just the bubbles screaming.

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 4. Folding Egg

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Perhaps the only things that are on par with the smell of vinegar are eggs and sulfur. We definitely aren’t going to send you out to find some sulfur, so you know this experiment will involve the incredible edible egg. At least, the egg will have been edible when you started.

Eggs aren’t the most malleable item in the world. It’s tough to bend, let alone fold, when you’re known for cracking. With the Folding Egg project, though, you’ll be folding an egg in absolutely no time.

Looks good enough to eat... Later. Eat it later.
Looks good enough to eat… Later. Eat it later.

The Folding Egg is a result of the acetic acid’s reaction with the calcium carbonate found in eggshells. You can see the reaction in the bubbles that form on the egg’s shell. (It’s our good friend CO2, back for another appearance.) Eventually, all that remains in an inner membrane from the egg’s shell. Now you can fold that egg up and stack it neatly with the rest of your linens, or whatever it is you people who fold things do.

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 3. CO2 Sandwich

30abc13cc534f50d7e91a2fd6a66b470332ba6dbI’ll admit, it’s hard to feature vinegar in an experiment and not have it’s gaseous buddy CO2 come along for the ride. Them’s the facts of life, Brostrodamus, so saddle up and prepare to make a delicious sandwich with your favorite acid-base bi-product.

Of course, you’re not going to get much digestive satisfaction from a sandwich full of CO2-filled bubbles. What you will get, however, is a fantastic demonstration of how the vinegar-baking soda reaction can change air pressure in a closed space.

Consider that fire as good as out!
It was the dog, I swear!        (Source)

Not only does the CO2 Sandwich provide an excellent opportunity for scientific exploration (try altering the amounts of each chemical), but the POP! you hear after the zipper-lock threshold is broken? Let’s just say that it’s like the first time I heard The Turtle’s sing “Happy Together.”

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 2. Chemistry Rocket

19310341183c3e4763930296726b1e564d07a3c7“More air pressure activities? DJ, you’re boring.” Is that so? Then how come I’m teaching you how to make a rocket ship that will fly you to the moon using vinegar and baking soda? (Since we’re getting involved with projectiles, it’s the best practice to make sure that plenty of adult supervision is involved.)

The Chemistry Rocket uses the same principles of acid-base reactions and air pressure to launch a soda bottle into the atmosphere. By atmosphere, I mean like…  100 feet or so. I hope you weren’t actually expecting some sort of DIY space program. I’ve got nothing for you, there.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 1.09.16 PMWhat I do have for you, is all of the air pressure, acids, and bases contributing to a spectacular display of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unscientific explanation: the bottle goes WHOOSH when the contents go KABLOW!

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


1. Ice Tray Battery

3eef8fb276f7e8a9782135d3f54d61966f9dd37cWhat do you get when vinegar, copper wiring, an LED, and some galvanized nails walk into an ice tray? It’s not a joke! You get a voltaic battery and a simple closed circuit. It may seem like creating a battery would have a lot more to it, but I speak the truth, people!

The Ice Tray Battery is the ultimate when it comes to kids’ science activities using vinegar. Simple household items throw their current-conducting properties into the pot to create a basic version of the batteries you buy at the store.

Love me yet?
Love me yet?                              (Source)

The look on young scientists’ faces when items that they know produces the unexpected result is like watching an LED light up from vinegar in an ice tray. It’s worth it, and isn’t that why we do things like this?

(Get the step-by-step instructions and scientific explanation.)


 

486275_604344292689_1597661315_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

Kitchen Scientists: Let’s Make Jam!

Hello there, kitchen scientists.  Whenever you mix two or more things together, you’re doing science – specifically, chemistry.  In the kitchen, chemists are at work every day!  Kitchen science is something we can all do, and usually the results are yummy.  So, let’s be chemists,  and create something new (and yummy)  by mixing a few simple things together!  Let’s start with some fresh strawberries.

mom's strawberries

Before we can measure the strawberries, we have to change their structure. Some people do this with a food processor, but I’d rather use my hands (wash those hands!) and a pastry blender.  Remove all the leaves, rinse the berries in cool water, drain them, and put them in a large strong bowl.  Some kitchen scientists like to slice the berries with a paring knife before crushing them, but I like to start with whole berries.  Grip the pastry blender firmly and start mashing away; this step will take a while, but it makes your entire kitchen smell wonderful!  Be careful with this step; the blades on a pastry blender are sharp!  Keep your fingers away from the sharp parts; just hold that handle firmly.  Crush, crush, crush those berries until you’ve got a bowl full of mash – leave a lot of lumps; those are the best part of your jam.

pastry blender step

Now you’ve got something you can easily measure.  Get out another large, strong bowl, and measure 1 2/3 cups of mashed berries into it.  Add 2 tablespoons of unsweetened, natural apple juice (or natural applesauce) (if there are preservatives in the juice, it won’t work!), and 2/3 cups of sugar. (Stevia works, too.)  Mix well and let it “set” for about five minutes.  Fill a few clean jars, and start the process over again.  Fill the bowl, add apple juice, add sugar, etc.  Do this until you’ve used all the berries.  Set all your filled jars of jam in a row and take a picture.  They’ll be beautiful.  Then put a few of them in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer.

strawberry jam

The science here is in the apple juice; it functions with the mashed berries and sugar as “pectin,” which can be purchased as a white or brown powder, but why do that when you can just use something you’ve probably already got around the house? Almost any absolutely natural fruit juice will work, but apple juice leaves the least “flavor footprint” behind; in other words, it won’t flavor the strawberry jam; it will just thicken it.   Pectin is extracted from almost any citrus or juicy fruit and is used as a gelling agent. In other words, it helps to bind cells together, which is why your jam is jam and not strawberry topping. The word “pectin” is from Greek, and actually means “curdled or congealed.” Fair enough. Tomorrow, your jam will be ready to spread.

jane's homemade bread & jam

Your strawberry jam will “keep” in the refrigerator for about a month, and in the freezer for about a year. Oh, and this same recipe can be used for almost any fruit without changing the directions. However, I do like to add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to all other fruits except strawberries. Your call.

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

A Matter of Balance

One of my many “parlor tricks” is to leave a restaurant with the salt shaker balanced on a single grain of salt. My kids just sigh and take it for granted now. salt shaker, grain of salt It might look like a magic trick, but the the salt shaker balancing act is really a feat of science, plain and simple. The beveled edge of most restaurant salt shakers only needs a tiny flat edge to lean against, and voila: magic.

It’s also really easy to do. Easy, and impressive.

Just pour a small pile of salt onto the table top, or a plate, or any absolutely flat surface. Set the shaker into the salt and press until the shaker is well into the salt. Now, tip it and start trying to balance. There’s no rhyme or reason to this part; you just have to tip and balance until you feel the shaker settle, and then you let go. You’ll know when you can remove your hand. You’ll just. . . . know.  Once the shaker is balanced, carefully blow all the rest of the salt pile away.  All you really needed was one grain.

This is an activity that can easily become a habit.

salt shaker at Nick's English Hut

Grains of salt are not symmetrical; they’re fairly square-ish but not perfect. They do, however, have several facets, or flat sides, and that’s what your salt shaker will find to lean on.

magnified grain of salt

A salt shaker will balance more easily than will the pepper shaker because the weight of the salt helps with the balance.  Pepper is a lot lighter.  Oh, it will eventually balance, too, but it’s a lot easier to use the salt shaker.

If the shaker has even a slightly beveled bottom edge, balancing it is easier, but with some practice, you’ll be able to balance almost any kind of container on a grain of salt.  Pop cans, glassware, coins, napkin dispensers. . .  just be careful.  A full or partially full container will balance more easily than will an empty container.  You need a little ballast to lean against the salt facet.

My father used to say that he spent a lot of tuition money for me to go to college and learn this trick all on my own in the cafeteria, but quite honestly, I’ve gotten a lot more enjoyment and actual classroom use from the balancing salt shaker demonstration than I got from Intro to Aztec Sociology 216.  Not but what all that digging into the human heart with the bare hands wasn’t interesting and informative. . . .I mean, when I saw that heart removal scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” I understand exactly what was happening.  But I’d still rather share the salt shaker balancing act.

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

The Spangler Demo Team Does the Reverse #ALSIceBucketChallenge

Steve Spangler and his demo team was challenged by a few of our fans and customers to join into the #ALSIceBucketChallenge.

We are a science company after all, so we had to add a science spin to the challenge.

Liquid Nitrogen  is 323 degrees below zero (translation – extremely icy liquid.)

We didn’t dump the liquid nitrogen over our heads. It is so cold, it will cause burns. Instead, our team dumped water into the liquid nitrogen for a completely different effect.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The Spangler Science demo team now challenges… the Ellen DeGeneres Show backstage crew, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Sid the Science Kid (because we want to see a puppet dump water on its head and support ALS).

Donate to the #ALSIceBucketChallenge >

The Beauty of Clouds

Ever since I was little, clouds have fascinated me.   A simple little visible mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere,  I realize, but mesmerizing, nonetheless.  Storm clouds have especially intrigued me over the years, and with weather season right around the corner there is no better time to talk about clouds, then now!

My Instagram-ed photo ofLenticular Clouds at sunset just outside the Spangler Office.
My Instagram-ed photo ofLenticular Clouds at sunset just outside the Spangler Office.

As a child I would lay in the grass and imagine the fluffy white clouds as the gates to heaven… beyond which, the wonder of the universe was endless.   And sometimes… they just looked like an animal or an ice cream cone. Nature’s scribble pad for me to browse through for hours on end.

Nature's Paint Set
Nature’s Majesty – some stratocumulus clouds at sunset over my apartment. Kind of makes you want to break out your True Color Tablets, doesn’t it?

In school, we learned that clouds form when moist, warm rising air cools and expands in the atmosphere.  When that water vapor condenses, it forms tiny little water droplets.  After the cloud droplets form, they either collide with each other and grow by joining together.  If those droplets grow too large, they will fall to the ground as rain or snow.

Which is cool and all, but it’s the beauty of the cloud,  the visual stimulation of the formation itself, is what always makes me stop in my tracks to snap a shot.

Cumulonimbus Cloud with a rainbow
Nimbostratus Cloud with a rainbow – caught on my way home from work one day.  Time to break out your prisms, right?

As I grew older, I began snapping pictures of clouds, particularly clouds during storms,  and have gained quite a collection of some amazing cloud formations.  So I have decided to share them with you throughout this post.  Some clouds are in formations that I had never seen until I moved to Colorado.

I’m no expert by any means, but I’ve done my research over the years.  When I snapped a picture of an interesting cloud, and wanted to know more, I did what every other human being would do..I asked the internet! hus have decided to share some of the facts that I’ve found!

Super Cool, dark and ominous Nimbostratus Clouds.
Super cool, dark, and ominous storm clouds I caught on my way home one day.  The darker the better for me and my camera!

 

Did you know that the smaller those cloud droplets are, the brighter they appear?  This is because the tiny droplets scatter more sunlight.  Large droplets allow more sunlight to pass through, which is typically why it’s lighter during the biggest downpour in a thunderstorm, rather than the darkness we experience during  the cloudy portion of the storm. (Which is my favorite part!)

Wall clouds during sunset.
Wall clouds at twilight can be super pretty, even though they may pose a weather threat.  These however, feel less threatening as I take them through my window!

Wall Clouds are large formations caused when moist, humid air near the ground gets drawn up into the storm cloud, and condenses to form this monster. (Even though it may appear that the cloud is being compressed from above.)  These amazing clouds are always rain-free because of the air moving upward into the cloud.

Wall Cloud Rotation
Wall Cloud Rotation

Wall Clouds often have a very noticeable rotation, which is what makes our other not so welcoming friend, the tornado!

 

Mammatus Cloud Formation
Small Mammatocumulus Formation

Mammatus (a.k.a Mammatocumulus)   I found is a meteorologic term used for cloud pockets or pouches that hang underneath the base of a cloud.   These clouds do not produce severe weather, but tend to be associated with strong storms and tornados. But don’t fret, they do not signal that a tornado is forming like our wall cloud friends sometimes do.   What really happening is that those pouches are created when the high concentration of saturated air is heavier than the surrounding air, so it sinks back down toward the earth. 

Mammatocumulus formations out my window.
Mammatocumulus formations just outside my living room window.

 Hole Punch Clouds  are another formation that has always made me ask, “How did that happen?”  These formations are found in altocumulus cloud layers, but the reasoning behind the formation tends to cause speculation.  What is believed to be creating these formations are airplanes.

These altocumulus layers  where the Hole Punch Clouds reside, contain super-cooled water.  When something comes in contact with the clouds, like an airplane, the cold water droplets rush over the warm propeller blades or wings of the plane.  As this happens, those tiny frigid water droplets begin to expand and contract.   They will contract back into the cloud themselves, leaving a hole in the layer.

If the droplets can’t find a particle to cling to you get drifting ice crystal particles that will sometimes fall, and make a streaky cone shape under the hole, which is also called a Fall-streak Cloud.

Super Pretty formations, most likely due to an airplane.
Super Pretty Hole Punch Cloud formations, most likely due to an airplane.

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I knew about clouds!  So, thanks for allowing me to share some of my photos with you today!!

Anyone know what kind of cloud this is?
Anyone know what kind of cloud this is?

Intrigued by weather yourself and want some great weather related products?  Look no further than with us here at Steve Spangler Science!  We have fun things like Insta-Snow Powder, Tornado Tubes and Cloud in a Bottle that can really boost your weather lesson.

Need more ideas or just love clouds like I do? Leave a comment below!