Tag Archives: cornstarch

Non-Newtonian and Fun!

Non-Newtonian fluids are an aspect of science that is simple, interesting, and a lot of fun.  Non-Newtonian fluid experiments are also inexpensive; there are only two ingredients and both are probably already in your pantry.

School’s out, but that doesn’t mean learning is on hiatus.  There are so many cool experiments to keep kids busy and their imaginations soaring, and most of them don’t cost much, if anything at all.  Non-Newtonian fluids are one of these.

Mix the two ingredients with our fingers!
Mix the two ingredients with your fingers!

But what IS a non-Newtonian fluid?

It’s a fluid that is both liquid and solid, depending on what you’re doing with it.  Non-Newtonian fluids defy the laws of viscosity, or ease of flow.  Water is highly viscous and flows smoothly, but syrup, ketchup, mustard, and honey don’t pour – they gradually flow.

Get a large bowl and put a box of cornstarch in it.  Gradually add water until you’ve got a gooey concoction; you can start by using a large spoon to mix but you’ll end up using your fingers.

When your cornstarch/water ratio is such that it doesn’t splash when you tap it with your finger, it’s ready to play with.

Scoop some into your hand and work it into a ball.  It will stay solid and round until you stop rubbing it.  Once you stop rubbing it, it will turn into a puddle in your hand and drip right through your fingers.

Remember Silly Putty?  That’s a non-Newtonian fluid, too.

But what is really fun is quicksand.  Oh, not real quicksand, although it’s easier to escape from than old cowboy movies would lead you to believe.  What’s really fun is creating some “quicksand” in a big container and dancing on it.

Let's make some quicksand!
Let’s make some quicksand!

In a large container, start dumping boxes of cornstarch and adding water, mixing with your hands until it “taps” just right.

. . . and mix it with your hands until it's juuuuuust right. . . .
. . . and mix it with your hands until it’s                                              juuuuuust right. . . .

The above pictures are from the Shazaam Science program at Ivy Tech Community College’s summer College for Kids program, but even the celebrities love to walk on water, Spangler Science style!

So do these experiments at home with your kids, or at school with your students. . . .

Then appear on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and demonstrate how a person can run across or dance on top of a good non-Newtonian batch of fake quicksand and only sink when you stop moving.

Everybody loves science, even famous celebrities.  That’s because with science, there’s just so much to love.

Like, everything.





Non-Newtonian Glop – Making Cornstarch Monsters

What do you get when you combine water, cornstarch, an amplifier and a speaker? (Besides a mess.)  You make cornstarch monsters.

Depending on the frequency played through the speaker and the vibrations it makes, the cornstarch will move and dance. Cornstarch is a non-Newtonian fluid which means it becomes a solid when it is under stress and a liquid when it flows. The trick is to find the right frequency that makes the best vibrations to move the cornstarch. You can actually see the sound.

This is a fun activity to take to a friend’s house and borrow their stereo equipment. For more on Cornstarch Monsters, read the experiment.

Cornstarch Walk on Water Stunt – Get a Cement Truck

oobleck cement truck

Mixing 2,500 pounds of cornstarch with the kitchen mixer just didn’t work, so we had to find a cement truck… and a very cool cement truck mixing guy. Oh, and you also need three people who know exactly what the cornstarch mixer should feel like when it’s perfectly mixed. Jeff, Carly and Renee served as the mixologists while I called the producer at the Ellen Show to let him know that we were ready to roll to the studio.

cornstarch mixologists

Watch the Cornstarch Water Walk Video

Cornstarch Walk on Water – Get a Really Big Bathtub

cornstarch tub
The final step is to drive the cement truck filled with 2,500 pounds of cornstarch and 250 gallons of water to the back lot at the Ellen Show and pour the goo into a giant bathtub – 7 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep. It’s also a good idea to have your oobleck mixing experts change their clothes and spend the next 4 hours mixing the goo by hand to ensure the perfect consistency right before the tub gets moved on stage. How do you move a tub that weighs about 6,000 pounds? Using a forklift, of course.
cornstarch walk on water

It’s also a good idea to find someone in the audience who you’ve never met and trust that you won’t let them sink into a pit of cornstarch goo. Watch the Cornstarch Water Walk Video View more photos at The Science Behind the Goo – Photos from the Ellen Show

Back from Ellen – Covered in Cornstarch!

Spangler Ink Trick on Ellen

We just returned from taping the Ellen Show and we had a blast. As always, Ellen and her staff treated our entire team (four of us traveled to Burbank, CA in order to pull off the cornstarch demo) wonderfully. There are lots of pictures to share in the next few days and some fun things that happened as prepared for the Cornstarch Water Walk demo. There's also lots of chatter on the Ellen blog about people wanting to do the science demos they saw on television. We posted the links you need on our Ellen's Wild About Science page.

The web producers at the Ellen Show posted the video segments late this evening and the links are below…

Blinded Her With Science – A quick look at the classic iodine clock reaction and the exploding bubbles. As you might imagine, Ellen was wearing very good ear plugs and safety glasses.

Rehearsal Tape – People ask what rehearsal looks like. Here's producer Slade Abisror experiencing the exploding bubbles for the first time. If you can read lips, you know what his exact words were when the bubbles exploded.

Cornstarch Water Walk – One of the producers said, "Don't try this at home… unless you want to purchase 2,400 boxes of cornstarch and a giant tub." This sounds like a challenge!