Category Archives: Summer Science

The Magic of Dandelions and Children

It is a sad fact, sometimes, that when a thing is common and we see it everywhere, we take it for granted.   When there are too many of pretty much anything, we tend to take them for granted and consider them less than first class.

Our overcrowded classrooms are the most extreme example of this that I can think of.  It’s easy to look at that classroom and overlook the fact that it is full of individuals each of which is unique and wonderfully made and equally worthy of time and attention.  It’s a lot easier just to say that there are too many students in there and that we need to get rid of some of them and keep only the ones that meet our specifications and preferences.

On a less serious note, I’ve never understood why people will pay out the wazoo for lovely nursery-bred flowers to plant and then pay out the wazoo again for someone to kill the lovely golden blossoms that are already growing.

The blossoms are lovely, and sprinkled over the lawn like stars in the night sky. . . .
The blossoms are lovely, and sprinkled over the lawn like stars in the night sky. . . .

Is it because dandelions are so common, and grow so easily, that we take them for granted and prefer flowers that really aren’t all that much prettier but which are harder to grow, expensive, and a bit less common?  If dandelions weren’t sprinkled everywhere, turning plain green lawns into starry universes, common, easy, beloved by children, would they be more popular?

If we examine each individual child  flower, we will see that it is wondrously made, unique, adds to the quality of the universe, and is worthy of cultivation and attention.

How could any florist’s creation rival the paper cup with a few short-stemmed dandelions stuffed into it?

I think this is absolutely beautiful.
I think this is absolutely beautiful.

How could any expensive centerpiece be more wonderful than a cereal bowl full of floating dandelion blossoms?

These were on almost every surface in the house when the kids were little.
These were on almost every surface in the house when the kids were little.

Even after “death,” dandelions are awesome.  Those white fuzzy “clocks” will tell a child the time, according to the number of breaths it takes to blow all the fuzz away.  FAIRIES love to ride on the soft, fluffy achenes, granting wishes right and left.  Every child knows – at least the children who are privileged to have dandelions at their fingertips – that if they can blow ALL the achenes off with one breath, the wish will come true.

This is a dandelion clock.
This is a dandelion clock.

How sad, to be a child without dandelions on the lawn, to have nothing but plain green landscaping that he can’t even play on because of all the chemicals. . . to have nothing near his home except expensive blossoms he’s forbidden to pick.  How sad the house containing children but no paper cups of short-stemmed dandelions all over the table and countertops.  My heart breaks over the thought of children living in a house where blowing dandelion clocks is forbidden lest the seeds take root and ruin the “look.”  No wishes or fairies dare come near such a domicile.  There’s a big difference between a house and a home, and to people like me, who believe firmly in fairies, wishes, and stubby little bouquets in paper cups and cereal bowls, a house has a green, chemically-treated velvety lawn, and a home has grass, sprinkled with tiny golden stars.  And, if the children are especially lucky, lots of little purple violets as well.

Little purple violets in the grass. . . .
Little purple violets in the grass. . . .

I believe that dandelions are flowers, in the same way that those expensive hybrid roses are flowers, and every bit as beautiful, especially when they’re thrust in our faces by a grubby little child to be put in a paper cup and placed where everybody can see and admire them.

The medicinal, culinary, and other practical uses of dandelions cannot be denied, either, but that’s a topic for another time.

Dandelions represent summer, and childhood, and the love of a little girl or boy for a parent, and a Dixie cup of stubby dandelions means more to me than anything delivered by a florist’s truck.  When I see a lawn sprinkled with dandelions, I see a home peopled by parents who believe a little child’s wishes are more important than a velvety lawn sprayed with chemicals.

Put that paper cup of stubby dandelions on the coffee table between two cereal bowls full of floating violets and dandelion heads and House Beautiful can go blow.  I prefer the individual touch when it come to home decor.

I also welcome the fairies.  So should you.  Heaven knows we all need all the wishes we can get.

Don't deny your kids the privilege of making wishes on dandelion clocks.  It's more important than a green lawn.
Don’t deny your kids the privilege of making wishes on dandelion clocks. It’s more important than a green lawn.

What’s that?  A lawn full of dandelions and violets would attract too many bees, and you’re afraid of bees?

Sissy.

Geodes and Diamonds – Backyard Geology

Oh, the memories of geodes!  When I was a little kid, I played a lot in the alley that divided our block in two. All of us kids played in the alley. It gave us access to the back yard of every house in the neighborhood, and it was cool in its own right.

Cracking geodes

Alleys were always lined with sunflowers and hollyhocks. In, among, and around the trash cans were the occasional doghouse and small garden. The Pryors had a strawberry patch, which we kids never dared to bother.  There was one huge tree on the alley that was the meeting place for every bird in the county, just before dark. You could hear that tree all over town, as the sun was going down. It was also the only tree in the neighborhood that we kids never played under.

Any day, a kid could find treasure in the alley. Sometimes there was broken glass, which we were forbidden to touch.  Sometimes there were pennies.  Occasionally, there was a quarter, which meant candy bars for all of us!  And there were always geodes.

I never played in that alley without finding geodes. Where they came from each week I’ll never know, but every few days, after we’d gathered them all up and mined the diamonds out of them, more always appeared.

Here in southern Indiana, geodes are everywhere. You can’t plant open geodesflowers without digging up geodes. Any batch of crushed stone you have dumped in your driveway will have geodes in it. It might also have arrowheads; you have to hire your young children to search for those. (That keeps them busy and in plain sight for HOURS; it’s fantastic.)  We can’t mow the lawns here without dulling the blades on geodes.

Geodes come in all sizes and colors; some are as small as marbles, and others are absolutely immense.  I’ve seen people using huge geodes for seats around an outdoor table.  Geodes the size of basketballs on fence posts are a common sight here.  I’ve seen geodes larger than grown men.  People here – including me – line their flower beds with geodes the size of cauliflower heads.

opengeodeWe kids used to gather a pile apiece and take turns ‘busting’ them open with a hammer. The inside is usually a wonderment of sparkly delight. Look up ‘geodes’ and check out the pictures; no two are alike and all have something enchanting inside. We used to pretend we were finding diamonds and rubies and emeralds; once in a while, there will be real amythyst in there.

Clean them, and polish them, and put them where they catch the light. The jewel-lined cavern inside a geode will enhance your dreams and make your wishes come true.

That’s the story, anyway.

I do love finding the geodes, though. You can’t tell by their outsides, what they’ve got on their insides, but you do know that no two are alike, and they’re all beautiful.

Kind of like people.

 

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 Flashing, Color Mixing, One-of-a-Kind White Lightning Stick

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

One of the biggest hits of the summer is the White Lightning Stick. On the Fourth of July, we held a small firework show in our front yard with our neighbors.

Along with the traditional sparklers and black snakes, we also shot off several film canister rockets and Mentos soda geysers. While the kids were waiting for the next activity, they played with the light sticks. Naturally, the sticks were first used as swords and weapons, but as the sun set, they began to really look at the light sticks and made observations.

Continue reading The Flashing, Color Mixing, One-of-a-Kind White Lightning Stick

Patriotic Layered Density Drinks for 4th of July

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

As you know, all of us at The Spangler Labs enjoy a good liquid density column. Our 9-Layer Density Tower is shared across the internet. It is one of our most popular Pinterest experiment pins. We are always looking for new combinations of liquids to stack (we have a lot of free time).

One popular density column found around the internet is a summer drink recipe perfect for the 4th of July. There are many alcoholic versions of the density drink, but we are going to focus on kid-friendly recipes.

Density Drinks - Layered Kid-Friendly Drinks for 4th of July

This red, white and blue drink recipe uses a little science to delicately stack different drinks on top of each other. Your guests will think it’s magic, you will know it’s really science at work.

The different colored drinks are stacked by sugar density. The heaviest, or most sugary drink goes on the bottom, followed by the next sugary and ending with the least sugary. When choosing red, white and blue drinks, look at the sugar content per serving. Many bottles use an 8-ounce serving, while others use a 12-ounce serving. The bigger the difference between sugar contents, the better. A drink with 18 grams of sugar stacked on a drink with 21 grams may mix more than 18 grams of sugar on top of 40 grams of sugar. There are a lot of calorie or sugar-free drinks available. These are best for the top liquid.

Types of Drinks Used and Sugar Content

  • Berry Blue Propel Zero – 0g
  • Black Raspberry Red Glaceau Fruit Water Sparkling zero calorie – 0g
  • Cool Blue Gatorade  – 21g per 12oz serving
  • Fruit Punch Gatorade – 21g per 12oz serving
  • Pina Colada SoBe – 25g per 8oz serving
  • Berry Lemonade Blue Jones Soda – 41g per 12oz serving
  • Fruit Punch Welch’s Chillers – 30g per 8oz serving
  • Squirt Soda – 38g per 12oz serving

Density Drinks - Layered Kid-Friendly Drinks for 4th of July

Step by Step for Stacking

  1. Refrigerate the drinks before starting so the ice doesn’t melt as you pour.
  2. Fill glass with ice to the top.
  3. Pour the heaviest or highest sugar content drink first.
  4. Slowly and carefully pour the next highest sugar content drink. Pour or drizzle it into the ice or along the side of the glass to reduce splashing and mixing.
  5. Pour the lightest or lowest sugar content drink on top.
  6. Enjoy!

Learning Opportunities
Take your kids with you to the grocery store and compare sugar contents in different drinks. Ask a few questions while you are there.

  • Why are the 0 grams of sugar drinks also calorie free?
  • How many sugar packets equal the grams of sugar in each drink?
  • Why are drinks with 0 grams of sugar still sweet?
  • Why does the sugar content give the drinks different densities?
  • Are drinks with 0 grams of sugar healthier or better for you?

Density Drinks - Layered Kid-Friendly Drinks for 4th of July

It’s Not Science, But…

  • We’ve seen a few blog posts that dress up their drinks with star ice cubes or Pop Rocks around the glass rim.
  • You can also place red, white and blue food-safe sparklers or other umbrella decorations on top of the drink. 

How Does This Work? 

The same amount of two different liquids will have different weights because they have different masses. The liquids that weigh more (have a higher density) will sink below the liquids that weigh less (have a lower density).

Density is basically how much “stuff” is smashed into a particular area… or a comparison between an object’s mass and volume. Remember the all-important equation:  Density = Mass divided by Volume. Based on this equation, if the weight (or mass) of something increases but the volume stays the same, the density has to go up. Likewise, if the mass decreases but the volume stays the same, the density has to go down. Lighter liquids (like the 0 grams of sugar drinks) are less dense than heavy liquids (like fruit punch or soda) and so float on top of the more dense layers.

 

 

The Science Behind Fireworks – How Do They Produce the Brilliant Colors and Designs?

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

** This article is strictly for the entertainment and information of our readers. Leave the display fireworks creation, development and launching to the professionals. It is a violation of federal, state and local laws to make or use fireworks without the required permits. 

Fireworks are as much a part of the Fourth of July as hot dogs, watermelon and red, white and blue. How do they get those brilliant colors, sparkling trails and heart shapes? There’s a science to creating the perfect firework display.

 

The Science of Fireworks. What makes the patterns, designs and colors? A fireworks decoder included. | Steve Spangler Science

Before we dive into the science behind fireworks, let’s start with a little history. The Chinese invented fireworks somewhere around 960 and 1279 AD. They shot off fireworks to ward off evil spirits and used them during celebrations, like the Emperor’s birthdays and Chinese holidays.

Fireworks were first used to celebrate independence in the United States on July 8, 1776. They were used in England to celebrate the birthdays of kings and queens. The fireworks were fired in America to celebrate the “death” of royalty and their power over the U.S. Fireworks were used to celebrate our independence each July 4th but not in an official way until July 4 was declared a federal holiday in 1941. Currently, fireworks are almost synonymous with Independence Day.

Designing and building the ultimate firework display or just a firecracker requires a strong knowledge of chemistry and physics.

Colors – Different metal elements and metal compounds create each color.  When you watch a display this year, try to name each element in it. Blue-greens and vivid violet-blues are the most dangerous and difficult to create. They are unstable and extremely dangerous.

Effects – the use of different elements also creates special effects.

What’s Inside of a Firework? 

  • Black Powder – the propellant. It is an old formula made from potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal. When it is ignited, the nitrate oxidizes the sulfur and charcoal which results in hot gasses.
  • Mortar (container) – the outer cylinder chamber made of plastic or metal. It can be a short, steel pipe with a lifting charge of black powder in the bottom or surrounding stars.
  • Stars – the pyrotechnic compounds that explode and create the colors and effects. They are spheres, cubes or cylinders about the size of a pea to a tennis ball.
  • Shell – a hollow sphere made of pasted paper and string. The shell is cut in half and packed with stars.
  • Bursting Charge – inside the middle of the shell to ignite the firework. The charge ignites the outsides of the stars, which burn with showers of sparks.
  • Fuse – allows a time delay for the explosion.

How Do They Create Multi-Explosions, Effects and Colors in One Firework?

Multi-break shells create multiple stages for the firework. Stars of different  colors and compounds are used to make different effects. The shells are filled with other shells or have multiple sections that are ignited with individual fuses. After the first section bursts, the next fuse is ignited and bursts the second, which then ignites the third fuse and so on.

The Science Behind Fireworks - How do they create the brilliant colors and patterns? | Steve Spangler Science

How Are Patterns Created? 

When the firework explodes, the stars are thrown out into a pattern. If they are packed into the shell in a star pattern or happy face pattern, they maintain that shape in the sky as they are thrown from the shell. Popular Mechanics has an interactive slideshow with pictures of shells with layouts of stars and charges that displays how some of the most complex designs are created.

Are The Booming Sounds from Fireworks All About the Ignition? 

Actually no, some fireworks contain sound charges that use perchlorate.

References – HowStuffWorks, eHow Fireworks, eHow Fireworks History, Popular MechanicsAnatomy of a Firework from PBS,