Category Archives: Science Experiments

Non-Newtonian and Fun!

Non-Newtonian fluids are an aspect of science that is simple, interesting, and a lot of fun.  Non-Newtonian fluid experiments are also inexpensive; there are only two ingredients and both are probably already in your pantry.

School’s out, but that doesn’t mean learning is on hiatus.  There are so many cool experiments to keep kids busy and their imaginations soaring, and most of them don’t cost much, if anything at all.  Non-Newtonian fluids are one of these.

Mix the two ingredients with our fingers!
Mix the two ingredients with your fingers!

But what IS a non-Newtonian fluid?

It’s a fluid that is both liquid and solid, depending on what you’re doing with it.  Non-Newtonian fluids defy the laws of viscosity, or ease of flow.  Water is highly viscous and flows smoothly, but syrup, ketchup, mustard, and honey don’t pour – they gradually flow.

Get a large bowl and put a box of cornstarch in it.  Gradually add water until you’ve got a gooey concoction; you can start by using a large spoon to mix but you’ll end up using your fingers.

When your cornstarch/water ratio is such that it doesn’t splash when you tap it with your finger, it’s ready to play with.

Scoop some into your hand and work it into a ball.  It will stay solid and round until you stop rubbing it.  Once you stop rubbing it, it will turn into a puddle in your hand and drip right through your fingers.

Remember Silly Putty?  That’s a non-Newtonian fluid, too.

But what is really fun is quicksand.  Oh, not real quicksand, although it’s easier to escape from than old cowboy movies would lead you to believe.  What’s really fun is creating some “quicksand” in a big container and dancing on it.

Let's make some quicksand!
Let’s make some quicksand!

In a large container, start dumping boxes of cornstarch and adding water, mixing with your hands until it “taps” just right.

. . . and mix it with your hands until it's juuuuuust right. . . .
. . . and mix it with your hands until it’s                                              juuuuuust right. . . .

The above pictures are from the Shazaam Science program at Ivy Tech Community College’s summer College for Kids program, but even the celebrities love to walk on water, Spangler Science style!

So do these experiments at home with your kids, or at school with your students. . . .

Then appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and demonstrate how a person can run across or dance on top of a good non-Newtonian batch of fake quicksand and only sink when you stop moving.

Everybody loves science, even famous celebrities.  That’s because with science, there’s just so much to love.

Like, everything.





UV Beads: Experiments and Crafts!

There are so many creative things to make and do with Spangler Science’s Color Changing Beads – UV Beads – that we’re going to talk about just a few here.  We simply don’t have all day!

Spangler Science UV Beads!
Spangler Science UV Beads!

Our UV beads are pony beads that have been treated so that they react with the sun’s UV rays.  The beads are snow white when they are not in the sun, and they turn various colors when the sun’s rays hit them.

For this reason, our UV beads are fantastic when you or your children plan to spend some time at the beach or any place that is outdoors, in reach of the sun’s rays.

Many parents or childcare providers like to give each child a little bracelet made of UV beads, or weave a bead or two into a child’s hair, or safety-pin a single bead – or two or three – to a child’s swimsuit or play clothes.  When the sunscreen is applied to the child’s skin, some is also spread over the beads.  When the beads begin to turn color, it’s time for more sunscreen!  In this way, even very small children can help take responsibility for their own sunscreen application!

UV bead bracelet


The beads will turn colors even when the day is cloudy, but the colors will be brighter in bright sunlight.  Remember, our skin is in danger from UV rays even on cloudy days, and the beads can help us stay alert!

Have you ever wondered why most prescription medicine is sold in those amber bottles?  UV rays can’t penetrate the amber, so your medication stays fresh; UV rays can actually change the chemical content of your pills.

A good experiment is to put a few UV beads in an empty amber medicine bottle and replace the lid.  Take the bottle outside; even the brightest sunlight can’t touch the beads!

The sun's UV rays can't touch the pills in this bottle!
The sun’s UV rays can’t touch the             pills in this bottle!

But if you open the lid and let the sunshine touch the beads, they will change colors.

UV beads in opened bottlePour the beads into your hand and the colors will really flow!

Just a few seconds in the sun, and the colors are showing!  They'll get even darker in less than a minute!
Just a few seconds in the sun, and the colors are showing! They’ll get even         darker in less than a minute!

The high school and college students in my community are wearing their UV beads in an even more creative way – they’re crocheting a long chain, with a bead placed every ten stitches or so, tying the ends together, and winding them around their wrists.  Apparently these wrist-wraps are quite popular, and with the UV beads, they’re quite useful as well!

UV bead crocheted loopI’ve seen some of the students wear this as a necklace, but most of them are using it as a wrist-wrap.

UV bead wrist-wrapPretty cool, huh.

Well, they made one for me, and I sure thought so!

By the way, water will not hurt your UV beads at all, but it will wash away the sunscreen you put on them.  Be sure to reapply your sunscreen the minute you see the beads start to turn colors!




Water Jelly Marbles Give Gardening a Novel Touch!

While people are still planting seeds for the summer’s gardens, why not be a little novel about it and use some polymers, specifically Water Jelly Marbles, or Clear Spheres?

Spangler Science’s Water Jelly Marbles – Clear Spheres –  have so many and varied uses, and gardening is one of those uses.  In fact, gardening itself has many and varied uses for Water Jelly Marbles!

Water Jelly Marbles


Both multi-colored and clear jelly marbles can be used for this experiment, and both work equally well, but you’ll be able to SEE the results better if you use the clear marbles.

Multi-colored or clear, any kind of water jelly marble will work for this experiment!
Multi-colored or clear, any kind of water jelly marble will work for this experiment!

First of all, you’ll need to hydrate the tiny polymer balls and let them grow.   I usually put some in a shallow pan and add water.

Growing jelly marble polymers
These water jelly marbles are almost full grown and ready!

For experimenting, I like to use nasturtium seeds because they grow so incredibly fast.  Any kind of seed, except the very large ones, may be used.

Using a VERY sharp knife, make a tiny slit in the jelly marble, and insert the seed.  It’s okay for the seed to stick out a little bit, but most of it should be inside the jelly marble.

seeds inside the water jelly marbles

My kids looked at the pan of seeds-inside-the-marbles and said, “Jeepers, Mom, it looks like a pan of fertilized eggs!”  They do, sort of.  That’s another kind of lesson, however.

Here's a closeup!
Here’s a closeup!

Like any kind of hydroponic garden, the nasturtium seeds should, within a few days, germinate and begin to grow.  When they are still pretty tiny, I’ll transplant them to some actual dirt, polymer ball and all!

The water jelly marble will continue to help hydrate the plant even after it blossoms; that’s one reason people put a pinch of polymer marbles under the root or with the seeds of both vegetable and flowering plants.  Polymers are the gardener’s best friend!

And now, we wait.


Insta-Snow: It’s a Ton of Fun!

Steve Spangler’s Insta-Snow is not only a useful gardening/decorating product; it is also a ton of fun!  And when you play with it using martini glasses, it’s even more fun!  Okay, they were plastic martini glasses from the dollar store, but even so.  Tell me these aren’t elegant!

A blue scoop of Insta-Snow, and we're ready to go!
A blue scoop of Insta-Snow, and we’re ready to go!

(I always get the bucket of Insta-Snow because I use it all the time for a variety of different reasons.)  (So I need a lot of it.) bucket of Insta-SnoqMy daughter and two of her friends came by the other day with gooseberries to be made into pie, and strawberries to be made into jam, and these projects require a mommy if they’re to be successful.  While waiting for the pie to bake and the jam to gel, we brought out the Insta-Snow because Insta-Snow pretty much guarantees a good time to be had by all.

Sara is used to Spangler Science experiments and projects, but Mary and Arwa were newbies.  Sometimes I’m not sure which is the most fun to do experiments with, but I think it’s a tie.

All three young ladies put the exact same amount of snow into their martini glasses and added the exact same amount of water.  Naturally, they ended up with three different reactions.

Sara‘s glass was full of slush.  Mary‘s glass was half-full of snow and half-full of powder.  But Arwa – the Insta-Snow powder in Arwa’s glass swelled and overflowed into the plate and she ended up with a pile of perfect Insta-Snow.

Arwa Merriman, polymer scientist!
Arwa Merriman, polymer scientist!

Now, upon examination, even though it seemed that each girl was doing exactly the same thing, Sara actually put too much water in her glass and Mary stopped and started too much.  But Arwa did it exactly right and her results are proof of that.

I was kind of surprised at Sara’s results – she grew up in this house and has done Spangler Science experiments all her life!  But to be fair, she was concentrating on her pizza. . . .

Mary is a beginner, so I cut her some slack.  She also had her wisdom teeth removed that day so we’re not really sure she was mentally there all night.  Those dental drugs are fine, you know.  Her haircut was really cute, though.

Arwa is a beginner, too, but she turned out to be absolutely excellent at following directions, and she also has a lovely innate instinct for doing things well.  And she did.

Insta-Snow, Arwa's glass


Just look at that.  Don’t you wish you had some Insta-Snow?  You can, you know.  You can order some Insta-Snow right here!   Just choose how much you want and proceed from there!

Science experiments, remember, are just that:  experiments.  We think we are doing the same thing in the same way, but the truth is, there will always be variations, big and small, and even the smallest variation can mean a different result.

Summer’s here – finally – so what better time to order some Insta-Snow, and anything else you want – to make sure your kids are never bored this summer.

In fact, to make ABSOLUTELY sure your kids are not bored, why not sign up for the Spangler Science Experiment of the Week?  Every week, you’ll get a free experiment, complete with videos and clear instructions, in your email!  FREE!

Experiment of the Week

You can also sign up for the Spangler Science Club; it doesn’t cost much, and you’ll get a box full of awesome science swag every month, to keep your kids busy learning and having fun all summer long!

Spangler Science Club


Go on, click both of those links and sign up!  Then you and your family can play with Insta-Snow and other awesome things, too!

Families that do science experiments together have more fun.  Seriously.  They do.

We do.  You can, too.  Go for it!

Science and Cupcakes

I wonder sometimes if people realize the incredible wonder of everyday science. . . . .  things we do every day, things we see, things we touch, things we eat. . . . you know, like cupcakes.

Cupcakes are science.  Without science there would be no cupcakes.  Imagine a world without cupcakes.  It would be bleak.  We need science so we can have cupcakes.

Without science, there would be no cupcakes.
Without science, there would be no cupcakes.

Cupcakes are not a single entity, you know.  Cupcakes are a combination of several things, and it is the combination that creates cupcakes.  It’s chemistry.  Kitchen science is chemistry.  It’s other kinds of sciences as well, but it’s mostly chemistry.

In a lab, we add different things together to create reactions, and to create new things which would not exist were it not for the COMBINATION of various other things.

Before you begin this experiment, you need to anticipate the receptacle that will induce the chemical reaction needed.  For this experiment, you need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  And then you need to begin mixing the single ingredients together to create a new whole.

With cupcakes, we need flour.  Three cups of flour.

Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.
Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.

Put the flour in a  medium-size bowl.  Kitchen science – chemistry – requires specific kinds of containers; test tubes are too small, so you’ll need a couple of bowls.  You’ll also need a cupcake pan and some paper liners.

In that medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.  They’re chemicals, too.

Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride.  Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.
Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride. Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.

Ma Ingalls, in The Long Winter, was glad to finally, after months of near starvation, get some supplies that enabled her to cook good meals once again.  Now that I have cream of tartar and plenty of saleratus, I shall make a cake.”   Which is what we’re doing right now, only we’re putting the batter in cupcake pans, and we don’t have to make our own baking powder, which is what Ma was doing with the saleratus and cream of tartar.

In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.  (Creaming, in kitchen science, means softening and blending things with the curved side of a large spoon.  You can also do this with a mixer, but that’s not as much fun.) Add the eggs to this bowl.  Blend thoroughly.

eggs, butter, sugar

Add the milk and vanilla to the mixture in the large bowl.  We use vanilla extract in baking, but let’s not forget where that vanilla extract comes from.

See that orchid?  That's where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn't it; almost like a. . . . flower.
See that orchid? That’s where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn’t it; almost like a. . . . flower.

Blend the vanilla and milk with the mixture in the large bowl; be sure you mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Proper mixing is important in chemistry.

Now start adding the dry ingredients to the mixture in the big bowl.  Add them a little at a time, blending well between additions.  When all the dry ingredients are added, start beating the batter with a large spoon or a mixer.    For good cake/cupcakes, the chemistry of the ingredients must be blended thoroughly and smoothly.

Pour the batter into your cupcake pans, put the pans into the oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes.  The heat will create a reaction that will turn all those ingredients you mixed together into. . . . cake.  After 15 minutes, check for doneness; there are several ways to check.  When the cupcakes look done and spring back when you tap them with your finger, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.  Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Cupcakes.  All those ingredients turned into cupcakes.  Kitchen science.
Cupcakes. All those ingredients turned into cupcakes. Kitchen science.

Put some icing on them if you like icing.  Icing is kitchen science, too, but for now, we’ll let you wonder about that one as you devour your cupcakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody talk about leftover cupcakes.