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!
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!
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…
Earth – 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!
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.
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.
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 – 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.
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!
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.
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!
Fresh Prince of the Science Fair. Writer for Steve Spangler Science. Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more. Husband. Amateur adventurer.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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 atwww.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.
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.