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

High School Students Get a Kitchen Science Lesson with Homemade Ice Cream

Students taking a culinary class at Springs Valley High School in French Lick, Indiana experimented using our Sick Science! Homemade Ice Cream recipe in class last week. They were studying the different ways to make ice cream. They first made ice cream using a churn and then tried our way using a Zip-Loc bag and a lot of ice.

A high school student makes ice cream in a science lab.

The students and their instructor Lisa Wray, enjoyed all of their hard work. Their school building also includes a preschool and the class plans on making more ice cream and sharing it with their tiny counterparts.


Students show off their homemade ice cream in their science lab

You can also make homemade ice cream with some materials and ingredients found in your kitchen, although you may need to take a trip to the store for rock salt.

What You Will Need: 

  • Large (1 gallon) plastic jar (a coffee can works, too)
  • 2 quart-size zipper-lock bags
  • Half & Half
  • Crushed ice (or snow in the winter!)
  • Rock salt
  • Vanilla
  • Sugar
  • Towel (or winter gloves)

Prep Time: 

  • About 10 minutes to pull together the ingredients and supplies.

Time the Activity Will Take: 

  • Ice cream will take about 20 minutes to make. 


Let’s Do It! 

  • Fill the plastic jar about half full with crushed ice.
  • Add about 6 tablespoons of rock salt to the ice. Seal the plastic jar and shake the ice and salt for about five minutes. You’ll need to wear your gloves when you’re handling the jar. If you’re curious as to why you have to wear gloves, measure the temperature of the mixture with a thermometer. The rock salt and ice mixture gets down to about 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C)!
  • Use one quart-size zipper-lock bag to mix the following ingredients:
    • 1/2 cup of Half & Half
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Play and Freeze Ice Cream MakerSeal tightly, allowing as little air to remain in the bag as possible. Too much air left inside may force the bag open during shaking.
  • Place this bag inside the other quart-size bag, again leaving as little air inside as possible and sealing well. By double-bagging, the risk of salt and ice leaking into the ice cream is minimized.
  • Place the two bags inside the jar with the ice and seal the bag. Wrap the bag in the towel or put your gloves on. Shake, rock, roll, and mix that can! Your ice cream should be ready after about 15-20 minutes.
  • Once mixed, remove the inner bags from the jar and rinse them well with water. You don’t want any salt water accidentally getting into your ice cream.

Vanilla doesn’t have to be the only flavor. Add chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, fresh fruit or nuts to experiment with flavor.

With a classroom of kids, use small snack baggies to make individual servings.











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'

Learn the Water Cycle Through an Interactive Game

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Recently at a Girl Scout overnight, the girls worked on earning a badge while playing a game about the Water Cycle. It’s hands-on, interactive and a great way to teach about water molecules and their journeys.

Water Cycle Game | Steve Spangler Science

The water cycle is usually portrayed in a circular diagram – water from the clouds precipitates or rains down on the land, the water runs into rivers and the ocean and evaporates back into cloud form. This is a simple explanation of how water travels. Water actually moves through several places or compartments water visits through its journey. The water molecules also may spend a long time or a very short time in a compartment.

For example, water is frozen into glaciers for hundreds of years, or travels in underground for a long time. For example, the Antarctic Bottom Water, the deep ocean water formed in the Antarctic, takes over 250 years to travel along the bottom of the Pacific Ocean before it resurfaces in the Aleutian Islands.

Animals and plants also move water. It is consumed, extracted and leaves during respiration, perspiration, excretion or evaporation.

Think of all of the places water is found and essential.

What You Will Need: 

  • At least 9 kids
  • Pony Beads or UV Beads in 9 colors
  • 9 bowls or containers for beads
  • 9 cube dice representing the nine paths of water
  • 9 signs for water path stations
  • Pipe cleaners (1 for each participant)
  • Poster board or sturdy paper to use for dice

Prep Time: 

  • Allow about 30 minutes or less to print out station signs, build cubes and sort beads. Once you have it built, the game is easy to pull out and play.

Time it Will Take to Play: 

  • About 15-20 minutes is a good amount of time for the water molecules to travel. 


Before playing the game, start out with a mini lesson in the water cycle and conservation. All of the water molecules on our planet are the original molecules. There is no way to get more water – the water on the earth just moves through different forms and locations but it does not grow or increase.

Water is always in motion – sometimes it moves quickly and other times it’s slow.

Water Cycle Game | Steve Spangler Science

Playing the Game 

Kids will become water molecules traveling through the water cycle and gain a strong understanding in the movement of water.

  1. Divide the students up into nine even groups. 
  2. Give each student a pipe cleaner with a loop at the bottom to hold the beads.
  3. Each group starts at one of the nine compartments of the water cycle – clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers, groundwater, soil, ocean, plants, and animals. Each station has a sign, one color of beads, and the corresponding block.
  4. Students line up at each station and take a colored bead that represents that station. One at a time, each child rolls the dice.
  5. Depending on where the dice lands, the student will move to the next station. Not every roll will move the water molecule. For example, water molecules in glaciers can get stuck for awhile.
  6. Each time the dice is rolled, a bead is added to the pipe cleaner. If a water molecule gets stuck at the glacier for three rolls, three beads are added.
  7. For a twist, you can use Color Changing UV Beads at six of the stations. These beads will be white inside the classroom and turn color outside in sunlight. Students won’t see the colors representing some of the stations until they step outside with their bead stories.
  8. Have students also write the name of each station they land at and how they got there in their science notebooks.
  9. Continue the game until each student or water molecule has cycled about 10 times.
  10. Pipe cleaners can bend into bracelets for students to take home.

Water Cycle Game | Steve Spangler Science

After the game has ended, have some of the students share their unique journey. Did they make it through all nine stations? Did they move through one station more than once? Get stuck anywhere?

You can also discuss how water molecules may move in different situations. Have students practice acting out some of the motions water molecules make as they move. Snow and rain molecules stick together, while vapor molecules move alone. Cold molecules move slow, while warm ones move faster.

This game was originated by NOAA on their education page. They offer downloads of game cube layouts, station signs and full instructions.