The Science Behind Clouds – On a Cloudy Day You Can See Weather

Have you ever wondered how clouds form? We all learn the water cycle in school – water falls from the clouds in the form of rain or snow and collects on the ground. The water on the ground heats up and turns to vapor and the vapor travels up into the atmosphere and creates clouds.

But how do those clouds form? Here’s an experiment that demonstrates how the water molecules join together and form a cloud.

Before you start on your own cloud, let’s learn a little more about clouds.

A cloud is a lot of droplets of water and or ice crystals, depending on the temperature. The droplets float in the air molecules.

Even though we don’t see them, water molecules are in the air all around us. These airborne water molecules are called water vapor. When the molecules are bouncing around in the atmosphere, they don’t normally stick together.

Clouds on Earth form when warm air rises and its pressure is reduced. The air expands and cools, and clouds form as the temperature drops below the dew point. In other words, cold air cannot hold as much water vapor as warm air. Invisible particles in the air in the form of pollution, smoke, dust or even tiny particles of dirt help form a nucleus on which the water molecules can attach. When these droplets come together, they form a cloud.

Why do clouds float instead of sinking to the earth? The water droplets in a cloud are heated up by the sun. The cloud and the water vapor inside are warmer than the air around it. Warm air rises, cold air sinks. How much water vapor, temperatures at different heights, wind and other air masses determine what altitude the clouds are formed.

Try this simple and popular Colorful Rain Cloud in a Jar activity -

Materials

  • Clear jar
  • Water (any temperature)
  • Shaving cream
  • Cup of water with a little food coloring
  • Pipette (or spoon)
  • Food coloring
Activity
  • Fill jar about 3/4 full with water
  • Spray shaving cream to cover top of water completely.
  • Drip water on top of the shaving cream using pipette.
  • Drip food coloring on top of the shaving cream.
When a rain cloud gets so full of water or mass, the water has to go somewhere and will break through the cloud and start to fall to the ground. As you pour or drip the water over the shaving cream cloud, the water will start to break through just a little bit. Observe your cloud as it gains mass and changes in composition. As the water breaks through, drip food coloring on top of the cloud.
Questions and Answers to Popular Cloud Questions -
1. Why are clouds white? 
The water droplets and ice crystals that make up clouds, scatter the light rays and reflect white light. Sunlight is made up of all colors. When all colors of the light spectrum mix, it creates white light. This is the opposite of paints or physical colors, which blend to black. The clouds reflect all of the colors evenly, showing white.
2. Why are storm clouds grey? 
When the clouds get thick or high in the sky, the light does not make it all the way through to reflect back out, making the cloud appear grey. When many clouds are together, they can also cast shadows on other clouds, causing the clouds to look grey.
3. How do clouds move?
The clouds and the storms they form move in the air currents, wind and jet stream.

Here’s another popular cloud activity – Cloud in a Jar
This activity requires adult help.  

Materials

  • Jar
  • Hot Water
  • Ice
  • Plate or jar lid
  • Matches
Activity 
  • Fill jar about half way full with very hot water. (Have an adult help with this part)
  • Cover the jar with the plate or lid and place ice on top.
  • Let it sit for a few minutes – you will start to see a cloud form. Watch the convection currents as the hot air rises to meet the cold air and then sinks again.
  • Light a match (bring your adult helper back in for this part), let it burn down for a few seconds.
  • Blow out the match and place it between the jar mouth and plate.
  • The cloud and the air currents will be more visible.
  • Lift off the plate and watch the cloud disperse.
  • Try it again!

Additional Resources: 

 

 

 

 

Third Graders' Creativity Shines in Invention Convention

Move over Shark Tank inventors and patent attorneys get ready for some amazing, new kid-invented products. Third graders at Wilder Elementary in Littleton, Colorado joined Steve early one morning to share their inventions and solutions to common everyday problems.

The annual Invention Convention takes the lead over the classic science fair in asking kids to solve problems with their own inventions. Many parents and teachers in elementary schools are organizing “Invention Conventions” in place of the traditional science fairs and kids are responding in record numbers with great ideas. The non-competitive, highly supportive nature of events these inspire kids to identify everyday problems, brainstorm creative ideas, and, ultimately, invent a solution that makes us all say, “I wish I had thought of that!”

Many inventors find things that happen in their daily life that cause them to think of some problem in a new way. The inventor of VELCRO ® thought of his invention while removing burrs from his pet’s fur after walking in the woods. Eli Whitney watched a cat pull feathers through a cage — it was how he thought of the invention now known as the cotton gin. Silly Putty was discovered accidentally when the General Electric Company attempted to find a substitute for rubber during World War II. Over 200 million plastic eggs, containing 3,000 tons of Silly Putty, have been sold since 1949. Good ideas are everywhere and inside of everyone. The Invention Convention brings out the inventor in elementary school kids. No idea is a bad idea.

A patent attorney in the Wilder community shared this important resource for protecting ideas.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers a number of resources to help young inventors learn more about protecting their creations. Check out the following website for more kid-friendly information about inventions and patents:

USPTO Kids Pages

Extract the DNA from a Strawberry – Kitchen Science

DNA is the building block of all living creatures, plants and animals. It is found in the cells of animals and determines the genetics or make up of every individual organism. DNA is also present in the whole foods we eat.

Thanks to the special characteristics of strawberries, it is possible to extract, isolate and observe the DNA. You don’t have to be a geneticist. You don’t even need a microscope. All that is needed are some household materials.

The long thick fibers pulled out of the extraction solution are strands of strawberry DNA. DNA is present in every cell of all plants and animals and determines the genetics of the individual organisms.

 While other fruits are soft and just as easy to pulverize, strawberries are the perfect choice for a DNA extraction lab for two reasons: they yield more DNA than any other fruits, and they are octoploid, meaning that they have eight copies of each type of DNA chromosome. These special circumstances make strawberry DNA easy to extract and see. (Human cells are generally diploid, with only two sets of chromosomes.)

To extract the DNA, each component of the extraction solution plays a part. The soap helps to dissolve the cell membranes. The salt is added to break up protein chains that hold nucleic acids together, releasing the DNA strands. Finally, DNA is not soluble in isopropyl alcohol, and even less so when the alcohol is ice cold.
For step by step instructions and photos, please visit the Strawberry DNA experiment on SteveSpanglerScience.com

Using an April Fool's Prank to Teach the Difference Between Possible and Impossible

This past Monday, we shared our annual April Fools Day science prank video. Many of our customers and fans look forward to our prank each year. This year, we shared step by step instructions on how to build your own lightsaber from the Star Wars movies. The materials list included an empty can, Dilithium Crystal (actually a Ring Pop) and duct tape. We were selling the crystal and an Energy Modulation Circuit (regularly priced $7,597.13 on sale for $11.38).

Here’s the video and instructions. There is also a sneak peek at some genuine Jedi training at the end.

We thought it was pretty obvious that this was a hoax and not really an actual experiment that people would go and try. We should have known better. Here’s an email from a mom that we received this week -

I have a six year old who found your light saber project through our school library.  Of course I wanted to encourage his interest in science so we immediately took the list from your video to the store to buy all of the materials…only to find that the power cell is must be something we have to “special order”.  The fact that you had a fake order form for it on the site only led to the false hope that we could actually buy the darn thing there.

$20 of worthless materials later, my kindergartener is going to be crushed to find out this was all a hoax when I tell him we can’t order the power unit.  I’m not sure what the goal was for this “project”, but I’d say this one certainly didn’t accomplish anything.  We’re very disappointed, and will share that feedback with our elementary school.

We appreciate that this mom took the time to send us this email and explain her frustration. This is not being posted to make fun or poke at her in any way. Most of us have fallen for a practical joke or scam at some point in our lives. We are sharing it as a lesson for all children.

The best part of the experience for all of us at Steve Spangler Science (and probably every teacher in the world) is that this child was naturally inquisitive and excited about science. Many teachers use these prank videos to teach kids to think critically and learn a lesson in probability. Just because something is posted on the internet or shared as an experiment, scientists should not take it as fact. Before performing any experiment, take a step back and look at it.

  • Are the materials easy to acquire?
  • Do they make logical sense in the experiment?
  • Could the video be using trick photography or fancy editing?
  • Is the outcome possible?
The lack of science education and literacy is apparent in our society every day. This mom and her child are just one example. If they had stopped and analyzed the experiment, they would have realized that a lollipop and a soda can had a very probability of becoming an actual lightsaber.

We hope this parent is proud that she has a son who is naturally curious and has a love of science. We hope she isn’t discouraged that she fell for a prank, but instead uses it as a teaching moment for her child as they attempt another experiment.

This is also not the first time we’ve had members of our YouTube audience get frustrated with our April Fools Day pranks. A few years ago, an experiment involving a paper airplane flying between two opposing fans created a stir.

We had so many people who went out and purchased fans and tried and tried to get the experiment to work, that a few days later we posted this reveal video -

Steve Spangler Science isn’t the only one who has taken a hit in the name of science illiteracy. Two Florida DJs were indefinitely suspended this April Fools when they joked that dihydrogen monoxide was in the water supply. If we as a nation were better educated in the sciences, everyone would have immediately known that dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water. The DJs caused a lot of people to panic when they made the announcement that water was in the water.

For a few more fun and harmless science internet hoaxes for April Fools Day, check out The Spangler Effect

Jedi Training – Use the Force & Build Your Own Lightsaber

Have you always wanted to build your own lightsaber and fight the forces of evil? Forget the old Jedi Mind Meld trick. That’s for amateurs (and presidents.) You need what all Wookies, Ewoks, Vulcans and Vogons use to protect themselves across the galaxy.

Our amazing researchers at the Steve Spangler Labs have uncovered the secret to how the lightsaber actually works. It’s only a tad complicated – but don’t worry, any padawan can make their own.

You may need to travel to a galaxy far, far away to retrieve some of the components, but trust us. It’s worth it.

The key to the operation of the homemade lightsaber comes in the two rare components, the Dilithium Crystal and the Energy Modulation Circuit. The Energy Modulation Circuit, when switched on, converts a standard electrical charge into a hybrid form of energy that emits light, heat, and sound.

Once you have your lightsaber up and running, it’s time to practice a little before going out into the final frontier to look for Darth Vader and his BFF Khan Noonien Singh.

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