Category Archives: Science Experiments

The 4 Elements of a Memorable Science Demonstration

Since starting at Steve Spangler Science in 2009, there’s one question that gets asked of our team more than any other: how do you create a memorable science demonstration? And the truth is, from our customer service team to our production team to Steve Spangler himself, we’ll all give you a different answer. So which answer is right? All of them!

Nobel Prizes for everyone!
Nobel Prizes for everyone!                             (Source: Wikipedia)

No matter who is supplying the formula for a memorable science demonstration, they’re correct. Every demonstrator uses the same 4 elements to create the perfect demo for their group, family, kids, or audience, though their methods may be different. They happen to correspond very well with the 4 classic elements. Most people start with…


DirtEarth – Research
Earth is the most familiar of the elements. We spend every day traversing its dusty, dry surface, but we have no clue what’s actually going on inside of it. For all we know, the core of the earth is a big, bubbling vat of baking soda and vinegar waiting to erupt with dyed carbon dioxide bubbles.

Science fair basics aside, it’s good to reacquaint yourself with the science behind the demonstration you’re going to perform. Even if you’re confident in your answer as to why you can create a teeter-totter by with two candles, it will be beneficial to get a refresher. Who knows, science could have uncovered a different answer!

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The world’s most sinister seesaw results from a children’s demonstration.

Researching your demonstration is also a great opportunity to discover ways of taking your experiment further. Find ways to spin off of your initial demonstration. This is your chance to really find ways of driving your lesson home.


drop-83018_640
Water – Practice
More often than not, mysterious happenings come from the water. Flesh eating river fish, mythical monsters, and giant snakes make sure that no human (scientist or otherwise) ever gets too comfortable within a triple-jump of water’s edge.

You shouldn’t be too comfortable in the performance of your demonstration, either. No one (read: actually, literally no one) likes having their demonstration, presentation, slide show, or what-have-you fail to perform. Geysers that don’t explode, launchers that don’t launch, and paper airplanes that don’t do the “plane”-part are all sure-fire ways of winding up red-faced in front of your audience.

IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!
IT WAS A JOKE, PEOPLE!

Now, this is science, so there’s always a chance that things just won’t go your way. THAT is what makes practicing your demo so valuable. Practice gives you the chance at troubleshooting possible issues with your demo. From setup to procedure to clean up, practicing makes sure you’re ready for anything that science throws your way.


air-19227_640Air – Application
Without air, we’re dead. That’s just a fact of life, and YES I intended that horrible pun.

We all require air to run our body. While you never forget how to breathe, we don’t think about it very often, unless we’re really USING our breath. Runner, yoga instructors, midwifes… these people know what it means to really use our breath, because they learned to apply it.

The same goes for so many science demonstrations and lessons. When our minds learn new information, like that hot air has low pressure and rises, we are much more likely to remember it with a direct application. Talk to them about how the downstairs of their house probably feels cooler than the 2nd story or talk to them about weather, wind, and pressure.

Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know... it's science.
Blue and yellow make blellow. Just so you know… it’s science.

When demos don’t match up with a solid application, you create the dreaded, “When am I ever going to use this?” You need earth and water to be ready for that one!


fractal-22188_640
Fire – Passion

Earth is solid, water is liquid, and air is gaseous. Fire is plasma? Fire is flame? Fire is part of a grouping of things called “intangibles” by sports coaches everywhere; just like passion.

Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.
Here we see the intangible ability of narcolepsy.                           (Source: Flickr)

Passion may not be absolutely required to pull off a memorable science demonstration, but it definitely aids in the effort. People of all ages can tell when someone is passionate about what they’re doing. The more genuinely excited you are about the demonstration you’re doing, the more excited your audience is going to be. Your energy is contagious.

Now just go and do it!

 

541289_10151141696561242_1371670891_nFresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

5 Viral Science Experiments You Didn’t Know We’ve Done Already

The term “viral” has undergone quite the makeover since the end of the 20th century. A word that used to have a connotation on par with “bacterial” has now become something that is sought after.  Going viral entails that something is spreading like proverbial wildfire. There’s viral marketing, viral memes, viral video, and viral photos. There are even viral science experiments.

*cough* Viral: definitely a good thing. *cough*
*cough* Viral: definitely a good thing. *cough*

The problem with things going viral is that, oftentimes, the originator of the content gets lost in the shuffle. Whether it’s from oversight by the sharer or just another detail lost in internet translation.

Here are some instances where Steve Spangler Science got lost in the shuffle. (Note: I’m not saying that we were the first to come up with the experiments. Many of them have been around for years and years.)


 

5. 9 Layer Density Column


You can count 'em. It's all there.
You can count ‘em. It’s all there.

In the last year, we’ve seen the picture above shared more than any other. But did you know that the original experiment only featured 7 layers and no solid objects? It’s true. Our video team decided to take it to another level by adding two additional layers and objects of varying densities. For our money, it’s still the best density demonstration (especially visually) available. Since our 9 Layer Column made it out among the people, you can also find 12 layer columns like this one:  http://youtu.be/4EMUsPJtCoc

Here’s the original video: http://youtu.be/-CDkJuo_LYs


 

4. Mentos Geyser

Secretly powering Old Faithful since 2004.
Secretly powering Old Faithful since 2004.

If you ask someone at the Spangler office what they think is our most famous experiment, they’ll tell you either Insta-Snow® powder, or the Mentos Geyser. The latter has been featured on MythBusters and, more recently, Epic Meal Time (although everyone knows the fruit Mentos don’t work as well, guys). It’s had a couple of viral rounds, but we’re pretty sure it started here.

Here’s the original video: http://youtu.be/rlSMNQ5K51c


 

3. Color Changing Milk

A more "colorful" liquid than is found in the East River.
A more “colorful” liquid than is found in the East River.

The Pinterest fanatics will recognize this one. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of food coloring, some milk, and dish soap. The newest alteration involves using some Elmer’s glue instead of milk to create a permanent work of art that’s as cool as it is colorful.

Here’s the original video: http://youtu.be/Hr6dZ6aWpF4


 

2. Monster Foam

No monsters were harmed.
No monsters were harmed.

Over the last few years (since the demonstration’s appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show) we’ve received more calls about this one than any other. Unfortunately, the results are a bit caustic, so we don’t provide the step-by-step process for this one, like we do the others. But it’s still a reaction that is sure to catch some eyes.

Here’s the original video: http://youtu.be/XVLCQYBQPQY


 

1. Instant Freeze

I was going to drink that...
I was going to drink that…

This is the most recent viral experiment that had our team going, “Hey, we’ve done that!” While many variations have come about (including hot ice), Steve has featured it during winter segments on 9News to show people what can happen when they accidentally leave their water bottles in their freezing car overnight.

Here’s the original video: http://youtu.be/sh1Ulhh4pgk

Density in Action: Can You Sink a Marshmallow?

By Loralee Leavitt, Candy Experiments

At the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, children crowd around the Candy Experiments booth.  A volunteer asks if they’re ready to take the marshmallow challenge: “Can you sink a marshmallow?”

As Steve Spangler teaches in the lemon and lime sink-and-float experiment, an object sinks if it is more dense than water.  It floats if it is less dense than water.

When you drop a marshmallow in water, it floats like a balloon.  A marshmallow is full of air bubbles, which puff it out.  The sugar in the marshmallow gets spread out over a large area, making the marshmallow less dense than water.  So how do you make a marshmallow denser?  You have to make it smaller.

To try the marshmallow challenge, take a mini marshmallow and squash it.  You can do this by smashing it between your palms, rolling it between your fingers, or smashing it against a flat surface.  Try to roll it into a ball rather than flatten it into a pancake, because a pancake shape floats better than a ball.

When your marshmallow is as small as you can make it, drop it in water.  Does it sink?  If it does, you’ve made it denser than water.  You beat the marshmallow challenge!

If that was too easy, try a harder challenge: sinking a regular marshmallow.  Squash or roll it on a cornstarch-covered cutting board to keep it from getting too sticky. (Otherwise, you may have to scrape the marshmallow goo off your hands with a spoon.)  Then drop it in a water to see what happens.  You can also try this experiment with Peeps, 3 Musketeers, or other kinds of candy that float.

 

 

Loralee Leavitt destroys candy for the sake of science at www.CandyExperiments.com. Her new book, Candy Experiments, contains dozens of amazing experiments including creating giant gummi worms, turning M&Ms into comets, and growing candy crystals.  Candy Experiments is available at Amazon.com.

The Invisible Secret Message That Glows in the Dark

Reveal invisible secret messages and drawings under a black light with a spooky homemade Halloween projector.

These handheld projectors are perfect for puppet shows, lighting up while trick or treating, flashing messages in the dark to your friends, haunted houses and more. Take them outside for fun after dark. Decorate a piece of paper, draw your message or picture with a fluorescent highlighter, glue it to a cup, add a black light and you are ready to take on the night.

With the Black Light Secret Message experiment, you’ll see that certain highlighters aren’t just brightly-colored – they’re actually fluorescent and glow underneath a black light! The secret messages and floating images you’ll create with this experiment are sure to create screams of joy and shrieks of excitement. Some even break open highlighters and squeeze out the ink to make glowing potions. On Friday, we will share the Science Behind some of our favorite glowing recipes.

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Instant Ice – Super Cold Water Turns to Ice Before Your Eyes

We recently came across this video by SooToday.com‘s reader Phil Sabine making its rounds on the Internet. In the video, Sabine takes a cold bottle of water, turns it upside down and then taps the bottom. The water instantly begins freezing from the bottom down to the top.

Is it magic? A slight of hand? Or did he switch the liquid in the bottle to something other than water?

The answer to all of the questions is no, there is no trick. The solution lies in the science behind the freezing temperature of water and how ice crystals form. This is also referred to as Supercooled Water.

Everyone knows the freezing temperature of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. When this temperature is reached, the water molecules freeze by forming ice crystals. It’s easier for the water molecules to turn to ice on top of already formed crystals.  Ice crystals build on existing ice crystals to eventually freeze the entire bottle of water.

What starts the freezing ice crystal process? 

The process of starting the ice crystals is called “nucleation.” This starts from an impurity or scratch or piece of dust on the container holding the water. In this case, the water bottle. One ice crystal attaches to the imperfection, and the others grow on top.

What if the water bottle does not have an imperfection or impurity? Nucleation cannot begin, and the water stays in its liquid state. Even in temperatures below the freezing point. This state is called “metastable.” The water stays liquid until something kicks off the nucleation process.

In the SooCool video, Phil turns the bottle upside down and smacks it. This is enough to start the ice crystals to form and build on top of each other as they freeze down the bottle.

The water in the bottle isn’t frozen solid, but more slushy.

For an experiment, take a case of water and place it in the freezer. Keep all of the bottles in the same position and try not to make any dents or flaws in the plastic. Wait overnight and check the water. Some of the bottles may still be liquid. If this is the case, try different techniques of shaking, hitting or disturbing the water in the bottle to see if the water will instantly freeze.

Instant Freeze Soda

Did you know soda will also instantly freeze? Here’s a video of Steve demonstrating this on 9News. You can also read step by step directions and the science behind the Instant Freeze Soda on the experiment page.