Easy but not-too-messy Science

Since last year’s summer reading theme was science, I developed a fun, hands-on, potentially messy (but potentially not) science program. I’ve since run it two more times, at two different libraries. My goal was to keep the cost down but show the teens some interesting science. I got most of my ideas off the website, Science Bob. They keep the experiments easy while also talking about what makes them scientific.

Before the teens stirred it so much it turned brown…because well, obviously that’s the logical conclusion here.

The first one we did, as it was a group project, was this one, which took a baking tray with sides and enough whole milk to cover the bottom. Then, you added drops of food coloring and then liquid dish soap in the middle of the drops of food coloring and the colors will spread. (this is due to the fatty nature of the milk and the dish soap which is designed to separate the fats out from objects).

Then, depending on the group, we either did individual lava lamps or a group lava lamp. When doing the individual, I found that larger size seltzer bottles (about 1 liter) work the best, while for a group, we did 2-4 liter bottles depending on what we hadon hand. Just make sure the bottles are clear colored. For a 1 liter bottle, you pour about 3/4ths of a cup of water in the bottom (this does not need to be exact). Then, you fill the bottle almost to the top with vegetable oil. Wait until the oil and water separate then add food coloring drops to your satisfaction (around 10). Blue food coloring will die the oil eventually and make it cloudy and hard to see. Red, orange and yellow will not. I will admit I haven’t tried green.

Demonstrating a large lava lamp

Then, add Alka Seltzer or another fizzing tablet, half at a time, and watch it bubble like a lava lamp without adding heat. I find that buying both the oil and the Alka Seltzer in bulk works really well. Then you can also send the teens home with extra tablets of the Alka Seltzer to show off their inventions. Or, if making a group one, you have plenty for others to use to try it out as they stop by. It’s a great conversation piece. The individual ones were incredibly popular – make sure to save your bottle tops!

Another thing I did was make slime and bouncy balls. The bouncy balls recipe failed utterly (they did not bounce or stay together despite attempts by the teens, which just splattered parts of bouncy ball everywhere), so next time I do this, I will return to slime. Any slime recipe on the internet will work. I used Science Bob’s Method 2 because it lent itself to individual making. The only ‘strange’ ingredient was Borax and most people seem to have some lying around and it doesn’t require much. Borrow it and return the giant box to the original owner later! The teens loved the process and we talked about polymers and the different kinds that they see in everyday life. Another great take home.

Demonstrating the soda, Poprocks and balloons experiment.

My last main project, which is an individual one (generally not a take home) but can also be shown as a demonstration, was not a Science Bob. It can be found here although that’s not where I originally found it either. I bought an 8 pack of little bottles of ginger ale (but any carbonated beverage should work). It can be done with either Poprocks or Nerds (sometimes Poprocks can be hard to find) and is best with both to show the differences. You put any amount of Poprocks or Nerds into an uninflated balloon using a funnel. Then, carefully put the balloon over the top of the soda bottle tightly without spilling any of the candy into the bottle.

Once it is on tightly (and you might want to have them hold it at the lip just to be sure), tip the candy into the bottle and watch the balloon inflate. One thing to be careful of here is do not skimp on your balloon cost. Generally the dollar store brand will be too cheap and you’ll end up with spraying ginger ale everywhere (I learned this the hard way). Also, the more candy, the more violent the reaction, so limit it to a degree or the balloon will pop off no matter how secure it is and spray soda everywhere. I’ve done this both as an individual project where each teen got their own to do the whole thing and as a group project, where a different teen helped with each element but we added a scientific factor by deliberately varying the amount and type of candy in each balloon to see how the reactions changed.

There are plenty of other cool looking experiments on Science Bob alone. I gravitated towards these because of the joint messy and cool factor that I thought would really appeal to the teens, while keeping my program cost low. I believe I spent less than $20 total, by using craft supplies we already had for a lot of elements, especially the slime. I will be going outside of these for an outdoor science program this summer where we can be a lot messier (think mentos and coke and volcanoes), but the nice thing about these is they can be done in any space.

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