Category Archives: The Science Behind

The Science Behind the 9News Broncos Clingy Thingy

Kirk Montgomery and our friends at 9News here in Denver have created a whirlwind of excitement over the Broncos amazing season with Clingy Thingys – United in Orange. Fans in Denver can’t get their hands on them fast enough.

The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy

So that left us to answer the question – how does the Clingy Thingy work?

The Clingy Thingy does not use adhesive to attach to glass or plastic so it isn’t permanent. The “thingy” attaches using static electricity. Similar to the way your hair sticks to a balloon.

Static electricity involves extra electrons. When you rub a balloon on someone’s hair, the balloon picks up electrons, leaving it negatively charged and the hair positively charged. Opposites attract, so the balloon will stick to the hair, or cause the hair to stand up if the balloon is held above the hair.

When you bring a charged balloon near pieces of paper, the paper isn’t charged so you might expect nothing to happen. But the paper is attracted to the balloon. Why? The negative charge on the balloon repels the electrons in the paper, making them (on average) farther from the balloon’s charge than are the positive charges in the paper. Because electrical forces decrease in strength with distance, the attraction between the negatives and positives is stronger than the repulsion between the negatives and negatives. This leads to an overall attraction. The paper is said to have an induced charge. This explanation applies to a charged balloon sticking to a wall and a charged balloon attracting other uncharged objects.

Moisture and dirt will kill the attachment so if you are trying to stick it to a car window, wipe away any condensation or dirt with a cloth before trying to stick it.

3 Things You Can Do with Your Clingy Thingy

Here are a few ways to display your Clingy Thingy in the name of science.

Tornado Tube

There will be a tornado of orange at Sports Authority Field this Sunday as the Broncos beat the New England Patriots. Stick your Clingy Thingy to a clean plastic soda bottle (upside down), fill that bottle about 3/4 full with water. Then attach a Tornado Tube to the top and another soda bottle to the bottom. Watch the message be revealed as the water swirls down to the bottom bottle.

Tornado Tube - The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy

Make the Message Appear

Place your Clingy Thingy face up under a clear dish or pie pan. Fill the pan with Water Balls.  The message will disappear because the water balls will refract the light. Pour water slowly into the dish. As the balls disappear, the message will appear. You’ve changed the refraction to reveal United in Orange!

Revealing a secret message with Water Balls - The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy


What We Will Do to the Patriots Sunday

The Broncos will be on fire and light up the field. They will burn the Patriots.
(Don’t try this demonstration at home).

The Science Behind the 9News Denver Broncos United in Orange Clingy Thingy

 Follow 9News Facebook page for updates on where they will be to hand out the Clingy Thingys.

Steve Spangler Explains the Science Behind on The Doctors Science Lab

Steve Spangler visited the set of The Doctors Science Lab this week to share lessons on the science behind some health discomforts…

Steve Spangler Explained the science behind food poisoning using Elephant's Toothpaste on The Doctors TV


With Steve as their lab instructor, The Doctors donned their lab coats and went to work. They used Red Cabbage Indicator, Milk of Magnesia, giant flasks and a few ‘glubs’ of vinegar to demonstrate how antacids work and the classic Elephant’s Toothpaste demonstration to show what happens with food poisoning in the stomach.

Continue reading Steve Spangler Explains the Science Behind on The Doctors Science Lab

The Anatomy of a Flood – The Science Behind Flooding

Were the deadly and destructive floods that devastated large sections of the Colorado Front Range last week the result of climate change? Some scientists say yes.

As a landlocked state, Colorado usually only has a few flood threats – from springtime runoff from mountain snow melt or summer thunderstorms that can dump a lot of rain in a small area. This is what happened during the 1976 Big Thompson or 1997 Fort Collins floods. But last week’s events were nothing people across 17 counties have ever experienced. Many called the drenching rains and deadly floods 100 or 1,000-year events.

The Science Behind Flooding | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver

What is a Flood? 

The simple definition of a flood is too much water in the wrong place.

Floods are usually caused by a lot of rain in a short amount of time that causes rivers or oceans to overflow their banks. Floods are also caused by storm surges – the height the tides rise during a tropical storm or hurricane. Or spring run-off, when snow melts too quickly for streams and rivers to contain it and they overflow their banks.

Flash floods are the most deadliest type of flood, because they usually involve large walls of water that move quickly and without warning down riverbeds.  Flash floods can also occur in the desert where hard earth can’t hold a large amount of rain in a short period of time. The water runs over the landscape collecting until it becomes a flash flood.

Flood Facts from

  • Floods and flash floods happen in all 50 states.
  • Everyone lives in a flood zone.
  • Just a few inches of water from a flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
  • Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 20 feet high.
  • New land development can increase flood risk, especially if the construction changes natural runoff paths.
  • In a high-risk area, your home is more likely to be damaged by flood than by fire.
  • From 2003 to 2012, total flood insurance claims averaged more than $3.0 billion per year.
The Science Behind Flooding - Floods wash away roads | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver
Submitted By: Kaylie from Evergreen

What Happened in Colorado? 

Several factors went into the flooding in Colorado. First, a slow-moving system pulled a large mass of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and pushed it west. When the air hit the Rocky Mountains, it was forced up into the atmosphere and fell as rain. The weather system then stalled out over the Front Range for multiple days. The arid west is not prepared for that type of tropical rain.

Second, September is one of the driest months of the year. Previous to this storm, Boulder’s record for rainfall during the month of September was 5.5 inches.

Thirdly, the area has suffered a long-term drought for over 14 years. Drought hardens the soil. When it does finally rain, the ground cannot absorb much, so it runs across the surface.

Finally, several of the flooded areas previously experienced wildfires which burn  and eliminate vegetation. The bare landscape cannot catch and slow down the running water, causing rainwater to move quickly over large areas and collect in lower ones. Two fires near Boulder changed the land – the 2012 Flagstaff Fire and 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire.

Heavy summer rains in Manitou Springs earlier this summer caused mudslides and  flooding after fires eliminated vegetation from the surrounding mountains.

The Science Behind Flooding | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver
Normally a small creek on CR2 just east of CR23E Submitted By: Julie from Berthoud

A Result of Climate Change? 

Clouds can hold more moisture in warmer air, which can lead to more rain.

In June, President Obama told an audience at Georgetown University, “Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet.”

Mark Udall, director of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, told National Geographic that science can’t blame any specific weather event on global warming, but the extreme rain storm in Colorado has at least some connection to climate change.

The connection, Udall said, “might be 10 percent or it might be 90 percent, but it isn’t zero percent and it isn’t 100 percent.”

The Science Behind Flooding | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver
Comcast building and Vans flooded. Submitted By: John from near 1st & Taft, Loveland CO

What are the Effects of Flooding? 

Flooding is very dangerous and causes wide spread damage. About a foot (30.5 cm) of water can move a car and only 6 inches (15 cm) can knock a person off their feet. Fast moving water can carry large debris and sweep people downstream very quickly. Undercurrents and unknown depths in the water can also disorient and drown even the best swimmers.

Flood waters also wash away roads, bridges and railroad lines, preventing travel and even escape. They wash away telephone and power lines cutting off utilities. Drainage and sewer systems are also overwhelmed during flooding, which can carry bacteria and viruses. Aside from the water damage, toxic materials and mud carried by the extra water cause a lot of damage long after the flood waters recede.

In Colorado, many homes were spared from flooding, but still had to be evacuated due to lack of power, sewer, water, phone and unobstructed roads.

The Science Behind Flooding - Floods wash away roads | Steve Spangler Science
Courtesy 9News, Denver

How Can We Protect Ourselves from Floods?  

If your home is located in a flood plain, near a river or even in a wildland fire area, it is recommended that you get flood insurance. Homeowners insurance does not cover damage from floods. Special flood insurance is purchased through the government.

During soaking rains and other weather events, stay informed and watch for flood watches and warnings. Get out before the mandatory evacuations go in place. Roadways will be open, people calmer and more resources will be available. This also aides emergency personal who must go door to door during an emergency.Keep all emergency numbers and paperwork in one folder that can be grabbed at a moment’s noticeis also a great way to be prepared for any disaster. 

Levees and dams are built to contain and control flooding and large amounts of water. These are not fool-proof and can fail or even overflow. Here’s an interactive guide about levees and how they work –


Tragedy in Colorado – The Science Behind a '100 Year Flood'

The Colorado Front Range is still reeling after a major storm dumped more precipitation on areas in 24 to 48 hours than they receive in an entire year. The result was 20-foot walls of water rushing down the sides of mountains, rivers coming over their banks, roads and bridges washed away and houses flooded. Hundreds of roads and bridges washed away across the Front Range. Some places, like the town of Lyons, became islands completely surrounded by water.

The Science Behind 100-Year Floods
Lefthand Canyon washed away Submitted By: Laura
Courtesy 9News, Denver

The flooding has effected 17 Colorado counties with the most devastating in Boulder and Larimer counties. Parts of Jefferson County around Golden and Evergreen and Arapahoe County in Aurora are also affected.

Continue reading Tragedy in Colorado – The Science Behind a '100 Year Flood'

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,