Jelly Marbles: Oh, the Versatility of Polymers!

I love to play with jelly marbles!  These polymer orbs have so many uses, from play to gardening to home decorating to party fun and who only knows how many other uses!

Just add water!
Just add water!

Who could ever guess that a pinch of tiny rock-hard “things” would grow into beautiful crystal-clear orbs, hundreds of times their original size!

The snow is finally gone and the weather has been spring-like for a few days, and this always makes me want to have fresh flowers in my house.  In my house, fresh flowers in a vase also means getting out the jelly marbles.  The marbles are often used in gardening of all kinds because they are mostly water and will hydrate your plants for weeks.  That’s right.  If there are jelly marbles underneath each of your flowers or vegetables, you can go on vacation and not worry about your garden.  These jelly marbles are also used in dry areas, to help keep the plants hydrated.  But I digress.  Back to ME.

Just a pinch of dried-out jelly marbles in a vase, and in an hour they look like this:

These started out as just a pinch.  Seriously, just a pinch.
These started out as just a pinch. Seriously, just a pinch.

Now, I could have left the flowers in the jelly marbles and they would have been fine.  But I wanted to take the magic a step further.

Now you see 'em, now you don't.
Now you see ’em, now you don’t.

Oh, the water jelly marbles are still there.  I just added some water.  The clear water jelly marbles are now invisible.  If you put your hand in there, you would feel them; they would feel like eyeballs, but that’s for a Halloween post later on. . . .

When the orbs start to show, that means I need to add more water.

Fresh flowers brighten up  the home, don't you think?
Fresh flowers brighten up the home, don’t you think?

Polymer science is one of my favorite areas, and Spangler Science’s almost-magical Water Jelly Marbles are one of my favorite products.  They’re inexpensive, and a pinch goes a long way.  They’re also indestructible; if you get tired of the way you’ve been using them, just put them in a bowl and let them dry out.  When you’re ready to use them again, add water and they’ll burst into bloom.

Just a little pinch goes a loooong way!
Just a little pinch goes a loooong way!

Why not order some today?  It’s time to think about gardening. and it’s always time for some science play!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day – add a few drops of green food coloring to your vase of orbs!  They take the color beautifully!  Don’t know if you believe that?  Check this out, then:

Seven years old and still going strong!

And who WOULDN’T want a bowl of invisible eyeballs?  But you’ll have to wait for that one.

Buried In Snow: The Button Lamp

Being pretty much buried in snow these past few weeks has made me think about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter.”

The Long Winter

While we are not experiencing bone-wrenching cold and eave-deep snow from October to April as history shows that the Ingalls family did indeed experience, the winter has been severe enough, thank you.  Some days, it was impossible to get to the grocery store, but we did not have to grind seed wheat in a coffee mill to survive.  And while we did have a few hours when the power was out, we did not have to smear axle grease in a saucer and make a button lamp.

But if we ever need to, here’s how.

Ma told Carrie to bring her a button – one of Pa’s old overcoat buttons would do.  We will assume that this button was made of metal, because otherwise it just would not have worked.  I didn’t have a large metal button, so I used a quarter.

We'll use a quarter instead of a metal overcoat button.
We’ll use a quarter instead of a metal overcoat button.

Then Ma took a small square of fabric and tied the button up in it.

button tied upShe then smeared some of Pa’s axle grease in a saucer.  I used Vitamin E oil, but cooking oil, lard, Crisco, machine oil, or any kind of oil or grease will work.  Ma then placed the wrapped and tied button into the grease and rubbed a little all the way up the fabric.

button lamp in oilThen she asked Pa for a match, lit it, and touched the flame to the top of the fabric.

button lamp, litIt made just a little light, but what a difference it made in the dark!  The flame burned the grease but not the fabric; it was like a little star in the dark room.  The heat drew the oil up through the cotton fabric and the flame fed on it and not the fabric!

Pa commented that people got used to new-fangled things like kerosene too easily, and forgot how to make do when times got hard.  I would say that a winter so cold that the cattle’s breath froze their heads to the ground and smothered them was one of those hard times, but families back then still managed to get through it.

The snow here is almost gone today, but this time last week it was almost knee-deep.  And just because we probably will never have to actually use a piece of knowledge doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have to learn it.

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves–they’re good things to have, but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

People who aren’t afraid to experiment and find different ways to do things are scientists.  We don’t all wear white coats and work in labs.

Some scientists put on heavy coats and go outside in double-digits-below-zero temperatures to make sure everything and everyone are all right and that nobody and nothing’s breath has frozen it or them to the ground.  Other scientists smear grease in a saucer or bowl and set wrapped-up buttons on fire so little children can see to go to bed in the cold and dark.

All those things our ancestors did to “make do” when they didn’t have or couldn’t afford the “normal” way to do something?  Science.

And when you think of some other way to do something when the “normal” way is out of your price range or reach?  That’s science, too.

You are a scientist.  We all are.  Any time your imagination or intense need or creative streak or budget, etc, inspires – or even forces – you to do something in a different sort of way, you are a scientist.  Whether it works or not, you are a scientist, and the world is your lab.  Whatever kind of coat you are wearing – or if you aren’t wearing a coat at all – you are a scientist.




A Science Fair Project on Time Change That Just Might Change the World

By Contributor Scott Yates

It’s true that not everyone is a fan of science fair projects.

But what if students could be involved in a project that directly affects them and their families? What if they could help prove that a governmental decision is a bad one, and one that should be reversed? What if the could get some extra sleep in the spring, right when it’s needed?

Time Change - Science Fair Project | Steve Spangler Science Blog

They can. Here’s how:

Daylight Saving Time is one of the least-understood government mandates out there. It’s confusing, disruptive, and deeply unpopular, especially in the spring when the clocks “spring forward” and we lose an hour of sleep.

I’m happy to say, however, that I’m now leading a movement to do away with the concept, but I need the help of science-minded students all over the country.

You see, the research that has been done about the clock changing for DST is all negative. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that it increases heart attacks. Other studies show that traffic accidents increase, productivity goes down, etc.

And yet, the time change is still with us twice per year. Why?

Well, the time zone a state or even part of a state was in was once something that the state got to decide. Then in 1967 the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed a law making the time more uniform. Only Arizona and Hawaii now keep the same time all year long, an exemption made by that law.

Now when states look at the matter, they find that they can’t decide on their own any more. The federal government will deny any application to change.

The only way we can make it work is if all the states band together. My suggestion is that all the states pass some kind of bill or resolution saying that they want to stop the crazy DST clock-changing. The trick is that no state wants to be first (or last) so I think they should just pass something saying that if two-thirds of the states pass something similar, than they will apply to the Feds and ask to be exempted.

And who should ask our state legislators? I propose that — the science-minded students of America.

There’s not much time left, so the first step is to create a bit of science. I can envision many great experiments, starting with:

  • How does a family’s energy use change?,
  • What are the computational abilities in students on the day after the clock-change?
  • What is the tardiness rates after the change?

Here’s another example from the master himself:

And here’s the part that makes it so great: After you do that science showing that clock-changing for DST is a bad idea, you can take it to your elected state-level official. They love hearing from students.

Than ask them to introduce or at least vote for a resolution that follows this model language for getting rid of Daylight Saving clock-changing.

How’s that for extra credit? Imagine saying that you did some science that helped change federal law and ended the dangerous precedent of changing clocks based on out-dated ideas.

I hope you will join in this effort, and if you do please let me know on this blog. I will be sure to highlight your success there.


Scott Yates is founder of a blog writing company, an inventor, and a father.


Science Experiments Gone Wrong

We like to think our science experiments will all be rousing successes, and in a way, they always are.

We like to think our hypothesis will always be correct, and in that same way, it always is.

When an experiment doesn’t go the way we expected it to, or the way we thought it ought to go, the first thing that sometimes goes through our heads is “It failed!”

When in fact, it did not fail.  It just proved something else.  A lot of inventions were invented accidentally – think of Alexander Graham Bell trying to invent a machine that would help the deaf communicate, and accidentally inventing the telephone!

After Christmas, I had a lot of candy canes that I’d taken off the tree, and I thought I’d try some experiments with them.  Our Pinterest boards were full of candy cane experiments that looked easy and fun, so why should mine not be just as cool?

Step one:  assemble the candy canes.  I covered a plate with a sheet of waxed paper and put three candy canes on it.  So far, so good.

Three candy canes, cellophane removed.
Three candy canes, cellophane removed.

Step Two:  Microwave the candy canes for just a very short time until they become soft enough to bend.

Here’s where it all went wrong.  An experiment requires specific times, and “a very short time” wasn’t specific enough.  It allowed for error.

burned peppermint
Two minutes seemed like a short time, but apparently it was a long time if you’re a candy cane.

Was this experiment a failure?  Not at all.  I just proved something other than what I’d set out to prove.

Remember this?  I was going to cultivate this viviparious tomato and plant it and eat all the tomatoes it would product.

It had a healthy beginning.
It had a healthy beginning.

A week later, it looked like this:

Doesn't it look great?  It was flourishing in that dirt!
Doesn’t it look great? It was flourishing in that dirt!

Today I put it on the dining room table for JUST A FEW MINUTES to admire it, and maybe take a few more pictures.

This happened.

The cats used it for a litter box, and ate the sprouts.
The cats used it for a litter box, and ate the sprouts.

Always make sure the cats are confined to another room when you do science experiments.  Lesson learned.

The main lesson, however, is that no matter what our results, every science experiment has some element of success.  What you prove or learn might not be what you thought you were going to prove or learn, but something is proven and something is learned every time.

Keep on experimenting.  Keep on.



Snow Monsters That Glow in the Dark!

JoAnna Cobb is a math teacher in southern Indiana by day, but by night, she creates snow monsters!

Mrs. Cobb and one of her Snow Monsters
Mrs. Cobb and one of her Snow Monsters

Mrs. Cobb is an excellent teacher who likes to make her math classes as interesting as possible – she’s been known to use some Spangler Science, in fact!

But during this long snow day after snow day week, Mrs. Cobb and her mom decided to be innovative with their snow creations.  Some inexpensive Glow Bracelets (Dollar Tree – two for a buck!) and some snow-rolling later, and the Cobb lawn was covered with creepy snow creatures with glow-in-the-dark eyes and a scary, smiley mouth!  (At least Mr. Cobb won’t have to mow for a while!)

Did I mention that Mrs. Cobb’s mother came over and helped cover the lawn with monsters?  Proof:

Mrs. Cobb's mother likes to make snow monsters, too!
Mrs. Cobb’s mother likes to make snow monsters, too!

Mrs. Hackney, you’ve definitely done a good job raising your daughter.  I think we know where she got her creative streak, too!

If you’re passing the Cobb lawn and see a swarm of glowing-eyed snow monsters, don’t be afraid.  They’re friendly.

I think.  Well, what do YOU think?

They're not scary, right?
They’re not scary, right?

Maybe I’ll wait until daylight to drop in, Mrs. Cobb.

Science isn’t always about labs and test tubes and chemicals, you know.  A lab is any place where experiments are being performed, and a snowy yard where people are experimenting with glow-in-the-dark faces on snow monsters is definitely a lab.  Every classroom is a lab.  Every kitchen is a lab.  Yes, every classroom, and every kitchen.  Any place wherein people are laboring in some way is a LABORatory.   Working in your yard?  You’re working in a lab.  You’re LABORING, aren’t you?

Mrs. Cobb’s yard was definitely turned into a laboratory this week.  She didn’t know how the Glow Bracelets would work until she experimented, did she?

Laboratory.  Experiment.