Sugar Water Density Towers – Escape the Heat and Experiment in the Kitchen

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

For this week’s Sick Science! Summer Camp we experimented with density using sugar and water. Usually around this time of the summer we are looking for indoor activities to do on a rainy summer day. This summer has been extremely hot and dry across the country. Many areas are facing severe drought situations.

So instead of a rainy day activity, we hunkered down inside to stay out of the midday sun and 100 degree temperatures.

This experiment teaches a lesson in density and supersaturated liquids. Do your children like to dump spoonfuls of sugar into their Kool-Aid or a giant scoop of Gatorade powder into a glass of water like mine do?

Time to take out the sugar and demonstrate what happens when you add 14 spoonfuls of sugar to one small cup of Kool-Aid.

Instead of using Kool-Aid, we used colored water, but either one will work.

For this experiment, everything you will need is found in your kitchen. Hence, the name Kitchen Science, but you knew that. We used materials from Steve Spangler Science, because well you know why. I’ll list the kitchen supplies, but if you are interested in the SSS supplies, visit the Sugar Water Density Tower experiment for a complete list and more of the science behind the activity.

You will need 4 short glasses and one tall, clear glass, a dropper, sugar, water, measuring spoons, and food coloring or Kool-Aid.

Start by filling each glass with about a cup of warm water. The exact amount isn’t as important as each glass having the same amount of water. Then color the water with either food coloring or Kool-Aid. In the first cup, add 2 tablespoons of sugar, in the second add 4 tablespoons of sugar, third add 6 tablespoons of sugar and in the last add 8 tablespoons of sugar. Label each cup with the amount of sugar added. Mix the sugar into the water until it is completely dissolved. If the sugar doesn’t dissolve, the solution is over saturated and you must supersaturate it by heating the water. Place the cup of water in the microwave and heat for 10-20 seconds. Stir again. Repeat the process until the sugar is dissolved.

Once your sugar is dissolved, start by adding the most dense solution to the bottom of your tall glass. Why do you start with the most dense?

Density is mass divided by volume, but what does that mean? Mass is how many atoms are in an object and volume is how much space an object takes up.

Basically, the more sugar in the water, the more sugar molecules are in the space, the more dense the solution.

So start with the most dense cup – the 8 tablespoons. Fill the bottom of the glass at least an inch to two inches high.

Here comes the tricky part. Add the next dense solution – the 6 tablespoons on top of the 8 tablespoons solution. This will take a lot of patience and a steady hand. Place the dropper end right above the water line and against the glass. Start slowing dripping the water droplets onto the first layer. It will take several drops before you start to see a new layer forming.

Look closely and you will see the lesser dense solution dripping into the more dense solution below it and then rising up. The colors may mix a little bit, but keep going, your true color will start to show itself.

Repeat these steps for the remaining colors.

What happens if you mix up your rainbow density tower when you are finished? The sugar will mix evenly into the water and the rainbow will disappear. So be careful!

Now try this experiment with different liquids or mixtures. Will it work with baking soda? Salt? What if you try different ingredients like sugar water, salt water, oil and layer them on top of each other?


Will I Get a Sunburn on a Cloudy Day? Testing the Power of the Sun with Energy Beads

By Blog Editor: Susan Wells

My girls hate applying sunscreen in the summer. It’s their least favorite activity of all time.

Headed to the park? Apply sunscreen.

Headed to the pool? Apply sunscreen.

Headed out on a bike? Apply sunscreen.


They always look for ways to get out of applying the sunscreen…”Mom, it’s a cloudy day, we won’t burn.”

We all know by now that you can get a sunburn on a cloudy day. Why?

Ultraviolet light is an invisible form of light energy. Just like in the visible light spectrum, the ultraviolet spectrum also includes many different wavelengths of light.

Long wave ultraviolet light is also known as black light. This light makes decorations glow. Long wave UV light easily passes through plastic and glass.

Short wave ultraviolet light is used to kill bacteria, hasten chemical reactions (as a catalyst), and is also valuable in the identification of certain fluorescent minerals. Unlike long wave UV, the short wave UV cannot pass through ordinary glass or most plastics. The shortest wavelengths cannot even travel very far through the air before being absorbed by oxygen molecules as they are converted into ozone.

How do you convince kids that something exists that they cannot see? Believing is a good start, but my kids want some proof.

When you expose bare skin to sunlight, your skin will either burn or tan (which doctors warn is still not healthy for your body). UV radiation wavelengths are short enough to break chemical bonds in your skin tissue and, with prolonged exposure, your skin may wrinkle or skin cancer may appear. These responses by your skin are a signal that the cells under your skin are being assaulted by UV radiation.

Enter the UV Energy Bead.

These beads are treated with a special pigment that reacts to UV waves in sunlight. They are perfect for demonstrating how solar radiation can be harmful. It also helps in recognizing preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risks from sunlight exposure.

Take them out of the package inside, out of the sunlight and they are white. Expose them to fluorescent or incadescent light and nothing happens.

Take them outside into the sunlight and the beads change color. Depending on the pigment in the bead, the beads will display different colors.

My kids and their friends made bracelets and necklaces using UV Energy Beads. They can be strung on pipe cleaners or cord. We prefer leather cord that can be tied in two places to make a slip knot to adjust the size.

They can wear their new jewelry while they play outside as a reminder of the sun’s power and the need for sunscreen. Each bead will change color about 50,000 times before the pigment will no longer respond to UV light.

So now if my girls ask if they have to wear sunscreen, I tell them to take the beads outside and test it themselves. If the beads change color, you wear sunscreen.

Using UV Energy Beads to Test the Protective Strength of Sunscreen

We’ve also tested brands and SPF of sunscreen using the beads. First, go out and purchase different SPF’s or brands of sunscreen. While out of sunlight, place a handful of beads into several plastic Zip-loc sandwich bags. Rub the sunscreen on the outside of the bag. Lay the bags with the sunscreen and beads out into the sun. Depending on the SPF or strength of the brand, the beads will change various shades of color. The stronger the SPF or brand, the less color on the bead. If a bag of beads turns bright colors, that SPF or brand isn’t going to protect your skin so well.

If you are testing brands, make sure you use the same SPF. For example, buy several different brands all with SPF 30. Or SPF 75. That way you are comparing the brands’ protection at the same SPF, instead of trying to compare brands with different SPF.

If you test SPF, purchase all different levels of SPF of the SAME brand.

No matter which way you test, only change one variable for the best results. Science and discovery is all about comparison. If everything is different, you will not accurately be able to compare and make conclusions.

Don’t forget your control…a handful of beads in a bag without sunscreen.

After doing this as a science fair project, my daughter refuses to use a certain brand, even four years later. In her tests, one popular brand was weaker than all of the others.

Now until August 31, 2012 SAVE 20% on 1,000 UV Beads. Regular price: $29.99, sale price $23.99. Use codeCAMP12WUVB at checkout.







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 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 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. and 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!


Save Electricity, Skip the Campfire, Go Old School and Cook on a Solar Oven

The hot, dry weather in Colorado has forced officials to enforce fire bans across the state. That means no campfires, no s’mores, no nuttin’. Or is it possible to harness the power of the sun using a technique that is used by Girl and Boy Scouts and other ingenious campers who want to spare the lighter fluid, charcoal or wood to cook a meal?

To make a solar oven, start by going out for pizza and keeping the cardboard box. Cut a flap inside the lid of the box so you have a lid inside a lid.

Cover the inside box bottom with aluminum foil and then place a piece of black paper on top. Cover the inside of the box lid with clear plastic wrap and the inside of the lid you cut out in step one with more aluminum foil.

It’s time to start cooking those s’mores. Place a few graham crackers on the black paper and layer with chocolate and marshmallows. Leave it out in the sun for about 10 minutes, more or less depending on the strength of the sun. BAM! S’mores for the family without a spark or fire.

The aluminum foil reflects the sunlight and harnesses the heat on the marshmallows and chocolate. The black paper absorbs that heat and increases the heat inside the box. The plastic also holds in the heat and protects the food from critters or dirt while cooking the food.

Here’s more on the science of the sun, sunscreen and step by step instructions on how to make our solar oven from The Spangler Effect -

Take Your Ice Cream Party on the Road with Play & Freeze Ice Cream Maker

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

Who says science needs to stay indoors? If you are looking for something to do on a camping trip, BBQ, picnic or party, take the science outside and make a little ice cream. Our Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker is perfect to get the kids (or adults) running around, laughing and playing.

We used our product testers and ice cream taste testers to make some ice cream during a backyard gathering.

The Play and Freeze Maker is easy to use – fill the ball with ice and rock salt on one end. Flip it over and fill the stainless steel canister with ingredients.

Basic Vanilla Ice Cream

  • 1 pint of Half & Half
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
Using whole cream makes a richer, creamier ice cream. Using part milk and Half and Half makes a lighter ice cream, but takes longer to freeze. This recipe is just to get you started – you can also mix in flavored syrups, nuts, chocolate chips, fruit, whatever you can think of to spice up your ice cream.

Then let the kids at it. They can roll and shake it all around the backyard. Our kids were creative and even set up bowling pins. The kids quickly learned it isn’t smart to play catch with the maker or kick it. It’s heavy and very hard. Soccer ice cream is not recommended.

We also used an Inflatable Play and Freeze Ice Cream Cover on one of our ice cream makers. The inflatable cover protects hardwood floors from the ball’s hard edges so you can make ice cream inside, and keeps it safer and easier for younger children to use. You can also take it into the pool, because the inflatable cover floats.

We found the cover also keeps the ball colder. We had more ice left inside on the ball with the cover, vs the ball without the extra insulation.

Our testers had so much fun, it was difficult to wrangle them in to check on the ice cream inside. After rolling it around for about 1
0 minutes, open the ball up and scrape the cream from the sides. It will be slushy on the inside and very hard and frozen on the sides. Roll it around again for about 10 more minutes.
When the ice cream is ready, crack open the ball and dish it out. We had a real ice cream party with a lot of toppings and flavors to mix in.

The Ice Cream Maker, makes the process easier, but you don’t need a fancy product to make homemade ice cream. You can also make it in a Zip-loc bag or coffee can. Check out our step by step Sick Science! instructions on how to make ice cream from just stuff found around the house.

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