Category Archives: Science Safety

Christmas Tree Safety

There’s nothing that says “Christmas” more than a live Christmas tree with all the tinsel and trimmings in your living room. There’s also nothing that says “fire danger” more than a dried out tree that can easily catch a spark from a nearby candle.

The needles and branches on a Christmas tree give the tree a lot of surface area. Try to catch a 2×4 on fire and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Try to catch a pine needle or several pine needles on fire and they immediately ignite. Each needle has a lot of surface area to catch fire and burn. Each needle also allows for a lot of oxygen in nooks and crannies to help ignite and feed a fire.

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The Dangers of Glow Sticks – Do Not Open Up Sealed Glow Sticks

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Glow sticks are incredibly popular in the warm summer evenings. Almost as popular as during Halloween time.  They are sold at many events and are found in stores everywhere. Steve Spangler Science also sells a few different varieties of glow sticks.

Kids love cracking them and watching the light glow like a firefly.

In watching blogs and sites like Pinterest for science experiments and activities to share, I have come across several how to’s that involve breaking open glow sticks. One involves adding the goo from glow sticks to bubble solution.

This is not a good idea.

Are glow sticks safe?
They are safe, as long as precautions are followed and the chemicals are kept inside. Cutting open a glow stick can also cause the broken shards of glass to fall out.

Packaging on glow sticks says they are non-toxic. However, the safety warnings on glow sticks read not to puncture or cut the plastic cover on the glow stick. Keep the chemicals contained, and glow sticks are a safe activity.

Glow sticks contain chemicals. Not deadly dangerous chemicals, but chemicals that should be handled and treated with respect. Some glow products use a chemical called dibutyl phthalate. Other glow products contain a small glass vial inside the plastic tube that contains a mixture of hydrogen peroxide in phthalic ester. Outside of the glass vial is another chemical called phenyl oxalate ester. When the tube is cracked, the glass inside is broken and the chemicals all mix together in a reaction that causes the glow.

Dibutyl phthalate is used to help make plastics soft and flexible. It is also used in glues, nail polish, leather, inks and dyes.

Hydrogen peroxide is used as a cleaning agent. Over the counter hydrogen peroxide is diluted and not as strong as the hydrogen peroxide found in glow sticks. This hydrogen peroxide  is severely corrosive to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. This is the type of hydrogen peroxide used in Steve’s Elephant’s Toothpaste demonstration. It is not meant to be handled or mixed into other solutions.

Glow Powder and Mini Black Light | Steve Spangler SciencePhthalic ester is a substance that is added to plastics to increase flexibility, durability and transparency. Phthalates are being phased out in many products due to health concerns.

Phenyl oxalate ester is responsible for the luminescence in a glow stick. The reaction with hydrogen peroxide causes the liquid inside a glow stick to glow.

These chemicals can sting and burn eyes, irritate and sting skin and can burn the mouth and throat if ingested. If the chemicals are ingested or spilled in the eyes or on the skin, it is recommended the area is rinsed with water and the local poison control center contacted.

The chemicals can also cause harm to your pet if a pet chews or ingests a light stick. They taste really bitter, so your pet probably won’t continue chewing or eating the chemicals inside. Watch the pet for excessive drooling or eye or nose irritation.

Poison control centers report that they get numerous calls about potential glow stick poisoning around Independence Day and Halloween.

Like I mentioned earlier, we love glow in the dark activities. We even sell an entire line of glow in the dark science toys. But we want to stress that when using any types of chemicals, the proper precautions and warnings are followed to ensure safe science.

So what if you want to re-create these cool ideas found on the web and Pinterest? Find a glowing substance that isn’t as harmful as those found inside glow sticks. Tonic water is completely safe and will glow under a black light.

At Steve Spangler Science, we sell Glow Powder, which is zinc sulfide. This powder can be mixed with liquids like glue or bubbles to make almost anything glow in the dark. The best thing about Glow Powder, is it will work over and over and over again and not die out like the glow in glow sticks.

Zinc sulfide is non-toxic, but it still isn’t a good idea to add it to bubble solution or get it near faces, especially the eyes and throat. Treat all chemicals with caution and care, no matter if they are listed as toxic or non-toxic. An adult should always be present when using chemicals and proper safety materials like safety glasses and gloves should be used when recommended to protect eyes and skin.

Keep in mind that this is not an attempt to sell our glowing concoctions. You do not need to purchase it from us. Google zinc sulfide and purchase it elsewhere if you’d prefer, just don’t crack open glow sticks to get glowing solutions.

Glow in the Dark Bubbles

This idea is very cool and we have tried in our Spangler labs to make glowing bubbles ourselves. But this just doesn’t work. You can make the solution glow in the dark, but once the bubble is blown, the walls of the bubble are too thin to reflect the light and glow. We have also tried over the counter glow in the dark bubble solution found in many stores. Again, the solution glows, but once the bubbles are blown, they do not glow. Although this activity sounds like a lot of after dark fun, it can be dangerous, especially if the solution is accidentally swallowed or blown into the eyes. We recommend you keep the glow in the dark chemicals and the bubbles separate for safety.

A safer alternative for glow in the dark bubbles, if you still want to try it, is to use Tonic Water. Tonic Water is safe to ingest and will glow under a black light.

Mountain Dew Glowing Hoax

A few years ago, a video surfaced where a guy mixed hydrogen peroxide and baking soda with Mountain Dew. When he mixed it, the solution glowed, showing Mountain Dew glowed in the dark. This was proven a hoax almost immediately after it surfaced. Wired.com and Snopes.com both posted explanations for how this prank worked.

The prankster slipped the liquid from a glow stick, like Phenyl oxalate ester, into the Mountain Dew. When the hydrogen peroxide and ester mixed, the solution began to glow. The Mountain Dew had nothing to do with the substance glowing.

So if someone offers you a glowing Mountain Dew, refuse it!

 

Are Some Science Educators Playing with Fire? When Does Sharing an Experiment Cross a Line?

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

I am frustrated. As our children grow up, they want to experiment. Explore. Discover. The internet is a wonderful tool to use in their education and growing independence. Growing up, I had to use encyclopedias, libraries, books. Now, everything is at our children’s fingertips. We all know dangers exist on the internet. Today’s kids have to learn how to navigate through the dangers and decipher the pitfalls. But what about when they are researching and learning? What if they are on a website aimed at children and their education? Will they recognize the dangers?

We get numerous requests to share how Steve does the Exploding Pumpkin demonstration. He is very clear that it is a demonstration, not an experiment, and does not give the chemicals or the instructions on how to do it yourself at home. It isn’t a magic trick or a secret. It is dangerous for children.

With knowledge comes power and with power comes responsibility.

Chemistry can be dangerous… and explosive. Mixing chemicals, discovering the flammable elements, and playing with fire; no wonder chemistry also involves safety goggles, hot pads, lab coats and eye wash. Chemistry can also be cool. Making things explode, ignite and react is exciting. And tempting.

That is why chemistry teachers share demonstrations in a controlled, safe environment.

My husband shared stories with me last night about how he experimented with gun powder and fireworks in his youth. He has the burns to prove it. My cousin burned his hand attempting to throw a firework when we were young. Even though we teach them not to, kids are going to play with fire.

Today, I love to see all of the science shows, science channels, science websites, science educators and science talk. But science isn’t just a bunch of explosions and flames.

The internet is currently full of science enthusiasts. Science is buzzing, which is a great thing, except with that buzz comes a lot of imitators and people jumping on the bandwagon.

Just because you know how to make homemade fireworks and fuses, breathe fire, juggle fire or have 4 ways to start a chemical fire without the use of matches, does not mean you should share it. Especially on a blog that is geared towards children and their parents.

And no, a disclaimer at the bottom stating “Wear proper safety gear and work on a fire-safe surface” does not remove your responsibility if someone is hurt. Giving out a recipe for a chemical fire that includes sugar and sulfuric acid is not the responsible act of a science educator.

My dad was a chemist and my brother currently works in a lab. They both have burn scars from chemicals. Some chemicals, like sulfuric acid, will burn through jeans. Just the fumes from some chemicals can burn sinuses. This is not child’s play. Even the pros get hurt.

As a mother, it makes me shudder to think there are children who are finding science lessons online and learning how to scrape match heads with a screw driver to add to a fireworks mixture. That isn’t science education and those are certainly not proper hands-on science experiments for children. We (parents, teachers, online educators) all need to teach our children how to not only dig deeper and explore science but also to respect it. There is so much more to science and chemistry behind just the big boom.

The inexperienced science educator can easily fall into the trap that bigger is better. Bigger fire, bigger boom, bigger audience. But that is not true. One of our most popular experiments is Color Changing Milk. It’s simple, it’s safe and it’s science.

Steve’s Mentos and Diet Coke experiment went viral because it was safe, okay for kids to do and had a wow factor. Not everything has to catch on fire to be cool.

I have a request to all science educators – please be responsible with what you share with all of our children. They have plenty of resources and creativity to get into trouble. They do not need to find recipes for disaster next to recipes for bubble solution. Don’t aim for more page views, buzz or content at the expense of having a child get hurt.

The explosions are cool, but safe learning is where it’s at.


Mad About Science – The Science of Propane

Mad About Science™ salutes the propane scientists at AmeriGas, the nation’s largest supplier of propane tanks and cylinders. Greg Rice and Chris Selepec from AmeriGas demonstrated the science behind propane tanks and explained propane tank safety at their facility in Commerce City, Colorado.

Greg and Chris demonstrated that propane is both a gas and a liquid. It is a colorless and odorless gas. Like with natural gas, an identifying odor is added so it can be easily detected.

They showed how the liquid quickly boils off and turns into a gas and talked about the importance of checking for leaks on your propane cylinders at home. A recent house fire in Parker, Colorado was partially due to an improperly connected propane cylinder to a barbecue grill that was up next to the house.

For more information on how to check for a propane leak, what to do if you smell gas, how to transport, store and dispose of propane tanks, visit the experiment on AmeriGas and the Science of Propane page.

Curious Jane Science Detectives Find the Fun in Learning

Curious Jane Camps are powered by girls. Or maybe they just run on girl power. Founder Samantha Razook Murphy, launched the all-girls camps last summer to encourage girls to explore the world around them. The camps are available in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia and Naples, Florida.

Curious Jane offers a wide variety of after-school and summer camps ranging from toy design, story arts, building, writing, lab science and rocket science. Yes rocket science.

Samantha, the mother of two girls, began Curious Jane to combine everything she loved about her education in graphic design along with everything she grew to value about an all-girls summer experience. Samantha has worked with girls for about 10 years and has seen the internal and external pressure placed on girls to get things right.

The goal with Curious Jane is to remove the fear of failure, not worry about the right answer and support girls in experimenting freely and widely in a variety of activities. The activities are process-oriented, not product-oriented. Above all, the most important goal of the camps is to have fun.

The girls in the science programs become Science Detectives for the week of camp. They are not supplied with any answers and must figure everything out, in turn mastering the scientific method. They learn that science is accessible and fun, and they often add new components to experiments.

Samantha and Curious Jane also subscribe to the belief that if it makes it to the dinner table, you’ve won. A camper last year went home and told her mom she loved chemistry. It’s a satisfying feeling when you bring the love for science into someone’s life.

Girls are still under-represented in the science fields but there is a trend building to get more girls involved in the sciences. Samantha believes that science in a gender-affirming environment allows girls to tap into their own love and interest in science without worrying about how the boys are doing, or whether or not they are getting it “right.”

Curious Jane has enthusiastic teachers, including Jennifer Oleniczak, and a lot of guest speakers and visitors.

In the science camps, girls do a range of experiments that touch on many different areas of science (physics, chemistry, natural sciences, etc), all using accessible and safe materials. For example they learn how to clean up an oil spill, take and analyze water samples, create crystals, test for acids and bases, propel a rocket, etc. In Rocket Science – the focus is on rockets, of course. And in Animal Nature they learn about a variety of animals, the species classification system (they created their own dichotomous key using Harry Potter jellybeans), zoo design, ecosystems and animals’ relationship to local areas. Outside of their class theme projects, they also do a bunch of different camp activities – drawing in arts projects, storytelling, a camp magazine, etc.

On the final afternoon of the camp, the girls set up a science fair with a variety of experiments for their parents to try out. They have  shared their jellybean classification system. The parents were asked to taste the beans and then were tested on their classification. They created mini-environments for crickets – a favorite and noisy project that was on display. They displayed their crystals, had a slime-station and definitely shared their favorite version of the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment.

Curious Jane is helping to build our future scientists, designers, writers and artists. If you live in a city that offers the camps, we highly suggest you and your daughter check one out.