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Edible Engineering

Build structures with your Halloween candy before you eat it!


What you will need:try this edible engineering2

Variety of candy pieces, preferably gummy (e.g., gumdrops, jelly beans, or fruit snacks)



Here's what to do:

  1. Remove the wrappers from a mix of different candy shapes.
  2. Using candy, start building different structures.
  3. Try building the tallest tower or longest bridge you can.
  4. Use toothpicks to connect candy pieces to make more structures.
  5. Build a geodesic dome with 11 candies and 25 toothpicks:
    1. First, use 5 candies and 5 toothpicks to make a pentagon (5-sided figure).
    2. Stick 2 more toothpicks upright in each candy like a V-shape with the tops of neighboring toothpicks touching.
    3. Add 5 candies, 1 to connect each pair of toothpicks from the V tops, to form 5 triangles with the pentagon toothpicks as the bases of the new triangles.
    4. Connect the candies on the top with toothpicks to form another pentagon.
    5. Stick 1 toothpick in the top of each of the top candies pointing up.
    6. Connect these 5 toothpicks in the middle with 1 final candy.
    7. Gently press on the top of your dome. How strong is it? Can it hold a small book?

Take it further:

  • Which shapes are strongest: squares & cubes, triangles & pyramids, or circles & spheres?try this edible engineering1
  • How tall can you build with just 5 pieces of candy and 10 toothpicks?
  • Can you build a structure that holds a heavy book? What shapes work best?
  • Try to draw a blueprint (diagram) for your structure. How could you draw it on paper so someone else could build the same thing?

What’s going on?

You probably discovered that squares & cubes easily collapse when too much weight is put on top (compression). Round shapes like circles & spheres or, more commonly in architecture, arches & domes are stronger than squares, but you may have discovered that triangles make the strongest structures. The pyramids in Egypt are based on triangles and have stood for centuries! Have you ever climbed on a geodesic dome at a playground? The triangles give it strength!  

Triangles are strong shapes for engineering structures because compression on one side of the triangle is balanced by a pull (i.e. tension) on the other side, so the whole structure can’t collapse like a square. The way to squash a triangle is to break one of the sides, which requires a lot of weight!

If you tried to build a tall tower out of cubes, how did it hold up when you added weight to the top? Try to build the tower again, but this time add toothpicks inside the cube between opposite corners to make triangles inside the cube; this should make your tower stronger. Can you think of any other structures you’ve seen that use triangles for strength?


Crystal Creations

Make unique crystal snowflakes to hang in your window this winter.


This is what you'll need:try this crystal creations

  • Pipe cleaner
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or skewer
  • Ribbon (optional)
  • Large Mason or other wide- mouth, heat-safe glass jar
  • Tablespoon
  • 1-cup measuring cup
  • 9 Tbsp. Borax (look for this in the laundry soap section of the store)
    (Note:  You can make salt or sugar crystals instead of Borax)
  • Hot water
  • Food coloring (optional)

Safety Notes:

  • Adult guidance is recommended especially for pouring boiling water and handling Borax.  
  • If you prefer to make sugar or salt crystals, they will take a couple of days to grow and the crystals are smaller. The salt and sugar crystals are edible, but DO NOT EAT Borax.


  1. To make the snowflake shape, cut a white pipe cleaner into three equal sections.try this crystal creations2
  2. Twist all three sections together in the center so you end up with a six-sided shape. Spread out the six arms to form a snowflake skeleton.
  3. Cut a piece of string about six inches long. Tie one end of the string to the top of one arm of the snowflake.
  4. Lower the snowflake into your jar holding the end of the string. Make sure the snowflake can be pulled in and out of the top of the jar without touching any part of the jar – sides or bottom. If the snowflake arms touch the jar, trim them with scissors.
  5. With the snowflake in the jar, set the pencil across the top of the jar, and roll the end of the string around the pencil until the snowflake floats in the jar without touching the bottom or sides of the jar. Tie the end of the string around the pencil to hold the string at this length.
  6. Remove the snowflake-string-pencil assembly, and put it aside.
  7. With an adult’s help, boil about 3 cups of water using a teakettle or heat-safe container in the microwave. Remember to make sure your snowflake jar is heat-safe too!
  8. Ask your adult to pour the boiling water into your jar. Your jar should be about ¾ full. A large Mason jar will hold 3 cups of water nicely.
  9. Now add 3 Tablespoons of Borax to the jar for each cup of water added. Stir until all of the Borax dissolves. If you used 3 cups of water, add 9 Tbsp. of Borax.
  10. Lower your snowflake into the jar and rest the pencil across the open jar top. Make sure the snowflake isn’t touching the jar and all of the pipe cleaner is covered by the solution. Set your jar somewhere safe where it won’t be disturbed. The waiting begins! Formation of your crystal creations can take up to several days.
  11. The next day, or the day after, carefully remove your snowflake from the jar and set it on a paper towel to drip dry.
  12. Cut the string off the pencil or cut it off the snowflake and replace it with ribbon.
  13. Your crystal creation is ready to hang in a window or on a tree!
  14. When you’re done playing with your snowflake, make sure you wash your hands.

Take it further:

  1. Measure the size of some of your crystals. How long is your biggest crystal? How many different sizes are there? Do you grow more crystals or bigger crystals if you let the snowflake sit in the solution longer?
  2. Try it again, but use sugar or salt instead of Borax. It will take longer to grow these crystals (up to a few days), so be patient! Do the crystals look the same? Which do you like best?
  3. What does your snowflake look like when light hits it? Does it reflect light? Does light go through it? Does it look different in sunlight versus light bulb light?
  4. Make a more intricate snowflake by wrapping string around and between the simple snowflake’s arms to create a more detailed frame before it goes in the solution. Do crystals grow on the string too? Are they the same size as the crystals on the pipe cleaner?
  5. Create colored snowflakes with colored pipe cleaners and/or a few drops of food coloring in your solution before you add your snowflake skeleton to the jar.

What's going on?

We used boiling water for this experiment so we could dissolve more Borax in the water than if we’d used cooler water. The hot water molecules move around more quickly and are farther apart from each other than cold or even room temperature water molecules, leaving more space for Borax molecules to dissolve into the water – more of them “fit” in the water because of the extra space between the hot water molecules. The hot solution with a lot of Borax dissolved in it is called a supersaturated solution! As the solution cools, the Borax begins to crystalize on the pipe cleaner because the water can’t hold that much Borax anymore. At room temperature, it holds less Borax; this is called a saturated solution.

Crystals started forming when the solution was supersaturated. The pipe cleaner and string give the molecules something to hold onto. The molecules then stack onto each other like blocks. More Borax molecules attach to these small starter crystal “seeds,” which keeps the crystals “growing” until most of the Borax has crystalized. This keeps happening and it looks like the crystals are growing, but they aren’t alive. The crystals will “grow” until there isn’t any Borax left or until you take your snowflake out of the solution.

Were your crystals big or small? The more time the solution has to cool, the bigger the crystals will get until they reach their maximum size. If we cool the solution quickly, say by putting the jar of hot water in a bucket of ice, the crystals will be smaller because the Borax molecules don’t have much time to organize themselves and join together to make big crystals.

Naked Egg

Make a bouncy, see-through egg


  • Mason jar or other airtight container with lid
  • White vinegar
  • Egg
Safety Notes:
When handling raw egg shells or insides, wash your hands after handling - and avoid consuming raw eggs. And of course, broken eggs can get messy, so take this into consideration when you decide where to do your experiment! 

Instructions:TRY naked egg 3

  1. Carefully, place the egg in the airtight container.
  2. Add white vinegar to the container until the egg is completely covered. If the egg starts to float, that’s okay, just fill the container.
  3. Look for bubbles as the chemical reaction starts. Wait for the bubbles to slow down.
  4. Secure the lid on the container to make it airtight.
  5. Set your egg container in a cool place, and keep an eye on it for about a week. Be sure to wash your hands after handling the raw egg!
  6. After a week, open the container, pour out the vinegar, and rinse your egg gently with water. Carefully, tip the container so the egg slides into your hand. Don’t use a spoon or other utensil to scoop the egg out of the container as it will likely puncture the egg.
  7. Gently, rub the rest of the eggshell off while running the egg under water.
  8. Now, go outside or somewhere that can get messy (like the kitchen sink), and play with it! The eggshell should be gone and your egg should be swollen and bouncy!
  9. When you’re done playing, clean up any mess and wash your hands as raw eggs can carry salmonella. Your egg should not be consumed, just throw it away.

Take it further:TRY naked egg 1

  • Try gently bouncing your egg in the kitchen sink or on a sidewalk. How high does it bounce? How high can you drop it from without the egg popping when it hits the bottom?
  • When you're done bouncing the egg, pop it! What does the inside feel like? Does the yolk feel the same as a yolk from a raw egg? How does it feel different?
  • If you don't want to pop your egg, let it sit, open to air, until the water evaporates. Now, what does the egg look like? Feel like? Does it still bounce? How long did it take for the water to evaporate? If you don’t want to wait, submerge your egg in corn syrup. What happens?
  • Do an experiment: Make multiple eggs and use different amounts of vinegar (1 cup, 1.5 cups, etc.) Which shell dissolves first? Weigh your eggs before and after, which one took in the most water? Which is bounciest? Can you determine in which reactions your vinegar was the limiting reagent?
  • Soak your egg is a cup of water for an extra day or two. How much water can you get the egg to absorb? How big can the egg get?

What's going on?

White vinegar is acetic acid, and the eggshell is mostly calcium carbonate. The acetic acid reacts with the calcium carbonate to form calcium acetate, carbon dioxide (the bubbles you see), and water, resulting in a dissolved eggshell.

CaCO3 (s) + 2 HC2H3O2 (aq) → Ca(C2H3O2)2 (aq) + H2O (l) + CO2 (g)TRY naked egg 2

Most household white vinegar is only 5% acetic acid with the other 95% being water. When one of the two reactants in the chemical equation is used up, the reaction stops because it’s out of ingredients. In this reaction, the acetic acid is likely to be the limiting reagent, and that’s why some of the eggshell needs to be washed away – there wasn’t enough acetic acid to completely dissolve the shell.

Another process happens at the same time and causes the egg to swell. The water in the vinegar crosses the egg's membrane by osmosis and stretches the membrane, making the egg bigger. The membrane holds the egg together even though there is no shell, but water can pass through because the membrane is semipermeable. Osmosis is the scientific term for this movement into and out of the membrane, and the goal is to make the amount of water on each side of the egg membrane equal. If you put your egg in corn syrup, the egg shrinks because the water is leaving; there is less water in the syrup than in the egg, so water has to leave the egg until the two sides have equal amounts. If you let your egg sit open to air for a few days, the semipermeable membrane allows the water to evaporate until your egg shrinks and you are left with the yolk in the membrane.

Marshmallow Waves

Measure the speed of light with some sticky sweets and a microwave


  • Microwave
  • Microwave-safe dish (at least 5-6 inches across)
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Ruler
  • Calculator

Instructions:TRY marsh waves 2

  1. Line the bottom of the dish (the longer the better) with the mini marshmallows to make one full layer, one marshmallow thick.
  2. If your microwave platform rotates, remove the rotation device, so the dish stays in one place. This includes the turntable support in the center of the microwave. If you can’t or don’t want to remove this piece, set a microwave safe bowl upside down over the center of the microwave bottom. Make sure the bowl does not touch the rotating turntable support.
  3. Put the dish in the microwave, and ensure it is level and will not rotate. Run the microwave for 15 seconds.
  4. Remove the dish and observe the marshmallows. Only certain parts of the marshmallow layer should be melted.
    Note: Time may be dependent on the microwave power. If all of your marshmallows melted, start over and try less time and lower power. If none of your marshmallows melted, keep going a couple of seconds at a time until you see some melted areas and some not melted areas. Don’t let the marshmallows cook for too long; burnt marshmallows make for a messy clean-up!
  5. Now, measure the distance (in centimeters) between the melted areas of marshmallows using the ruler. This distance is equal to half the wavelength of your microwave. If you get different measurements between different areas, take an average.
  6. Find the sticker on your microwave that tells you the frequency in Hertz (Hz). Most microwaves are around 2450 Megahertz (MHz).
  7. Plug your numbers into the following equation to calculate the speed of light:
    Speed of light = 2 x (distance between melted areas, in cm) x (frequency of microwave, in Hz)
    Note: MHz = 106 Hz
  8. The actual speed of light is 3.00 x 1010 cm/s. How close were you? If you didn’t get exactly the right number, why do you think that happened? Where might error have been introduced?
  9. Enjoy your melted marshmallows! Scoop some marshmallow onto a graham cracker and add a piece of chocolate for an easy s’more!TRY marsh waves 1

Take it further:

  • If your marshmallows didn’t exactly melt, what did happen to them? Did you notice any patterns?
  • Try using a longer dish. How many melted areas can you get in one dish?
    Try different foods like chocolate chips, cheese, or egg white. Which melts or cooks fastest? With which food is it easiest to measure the distance between “hot spots”? Do you get the same value for the speed of light with each food?
  • Look up the electromagnetic spectrum on the Internet. Where do microwaves fall on the spectrum? Where is visible light? Can you figure out how microwaves and visible light waves are different? Do you recognize any other types of electromagnetic radiation on the spectrum?

What’s going on?

You should have observed a pattern melted into your marshmallow layer. Why didn’t all of the marshmallows melt at the same time?

Microwaves are a type of electromagnetic radiation, like visible light. We can’t see them because they are outside of the range of visible light. A microwave oven generates a standing wave inside the oven. A standing wave is a wave that is reflected back and forth and interferes with itself, creating peaks with higher amplitude and troughs with zero amplitude. The wave peaks heat faster than the troughs and lead to “hot spots” in the microwave; these are the areas where the marshmallows melted. The distance between “hot spots” is half the wavelength of the standing wave in the oven, so the equation multiplies by two.

Microwaves work well for cooking food because the waves are at an energy that can be easily absorbed by molecules common in food, especially water molecules. The absorbed energy heats the food thereby cooking it. Be sure to put the rotating plate back in your microwave! The rotation ensures that all parts of the food go through the “hot” and “cold” spots in the microwave to cook food evenly.

TRY micro waves

"For a tasty end to your experiment, our testers suggested adding chocolate chips or chocolate sauce and broken graham crackers to the marshmallows, and taste-testing the result!"

Whoa! Don't Fall Over! TRY athlete ball 8 2016 IMG 3555 web

Try training like an Olympic athlete.


  • Smooth-surfaced, solid wall
  • Tennis ball or other similar-sized bouncy ball


  1. Stand facing the wall about a foot away holding the ball.
  2. Balance on one foot. Raise your foot high up and behind you so it is level with your knee.
  3. Bounce the ball off the wall and try to catch it all while balancing on one foot!
  4. Try to keep going for at least 30 seconds without falling over or putting your foot down.
  5. Keep practicing until you can bounce the ball and continuously balance for a full 60 seconds.

Take it further:

  1. When you can balance for a full minute, try backing up and starting farther from the wall. Is it still easy to throw and catch without tipping over?
  2. Switch feet! Is your balance the same? Which foot is easier to balance on? Why do you think that is?
  3. Try throwing the ball with your non-dominant hand. Is it harder to control the ball? Is it harder to balance and catch the ball?
  4. For a real challenge, use your non-dominant hand to throw and catch while standing on your non-dominant foot!

What’s going on?

Athletes depend on good balance and spatial awareness to help them excel. Spatial awareness is knowing where you and objects around you are compared to your surrounding environment. This is important for athletes because they need to understand and direct, to a high degree of accuracy, how their body parts move in relation to each other, and how their body moves in relation to their teammates, competitors, equipment, and environment.

In this activity, you are training your balance and spatial awareness. This can help improve your agility and coordination, which are essential skills for athletic performance and injury prevention. If you start to tip over while the ball is bouncing off the wall, your muscles and balance sensors (inside your inner ear) will react to keep you upright while your spatial awareness will adjust to help you sense where the ball is as you move into a different position, enabling you to catch it.

To maintain your balance, you need to keep your center of gravity over your base. When you stand on two feet, your center of gravity is in the center of you (around your belly button), but when you stand on one foot, you have to shift your weight over the foot that is still on the ground or you will fall over. This weight transfer shifts your center of gravity over your base leg to help you stay balanced. As you continue practicing, you will improve your ability to lean and bend (which shifts your center of gravity) while staying balanced because your muscles will be stronger and will be able to pull you back to a balanced position more quickly. With this type of training, you could be on your way to becoming an Olympic gymnast, swimmer, or track star!

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