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Make your own Straw Oboe

A drinking straw can become a wind
instrument with just a couple of snips!

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You will need:

  • Scissors
  • Plastic drinking straws
  • Tape

Flatten about 1" of one end of the straw with your teeth or another tool. Then trim the flattened end into a triangular shape. This makes a reed, a strip of material that can vibrate and produce sounds. To play your oboe, put the trimmed end in your mouth, past your lips and teeth so the end can vibrate freely, and blow forcibly.

Note: the two points of the trimmed end should be close together but not touching,
so air can pass through the opening. It won't work if you bite down.

  • What kind of sounds do your get when you blow into the straw?
  • What happens to the pitch if you cut the straw shorter and shorter while blowing continuously?
  • What happens to the pitch if you lengthen your oboe by adding one or more straws on the uncut end, either by taping the ends together or squishing one end into another? 

You can also cut little holes on one side of the straw at regular intervals. This lets you modulate the pitch by controlling how far the air travels before it exits.

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Colors on the Run

What colors are hiding in a brown M&M® or in a black marker?
The answer may surprise you!

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You will need:

  • M&M's®, or Skittles® or similar candy
  • Water-soluble markers
  • White coffee filters (best) or white paper towels
  • Water
  • A cup
  • Scissors
  • A few clothespins (optional)

Cut the coffee filters or the paper towels into strips of about 1 inch wide and 4-5 inches long.

Candy test: Transfer as much as possible of the food dye from the coating of a piece of candy onto a strip by slightly wetting the candy with water, and gently rubbing it on the strip about half an inch away from the bottom.
Marker test: Instead of rubing candy, in the same spot on the filter strip, make a dense, round spot of marker ink about 1/4" in diameter.

Fill your cup with about half an inch of water, and place the strip so that the bottom end touches the water but the colored spot remains above the water line. The strip will usually stay put, but pinning it to the cup with a clothespin helps.

In candy and marker chromatography, the water moves up the strip and carries with it the water-soluable dyes. Since the molecules in the dyes have different sizes and properties, they move at different speeds up the strip and separate out over time.

Things to explore:

  • What do you notice happening to the colored spot in a span of a few minutes?
  • Do different candy types or marker colors produce different color separation patterns?

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Soap Films

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You will need:

  • Pipe cleaners (chenille sticks)
  • Dish soap ( Dawn or Joy works best)
  • Plastic tub deep enough to submerge your wands
  • Water

While free floating bubbles are spherical, soap films can take on many different shapes. It all depends on the wand.

To make your soap solution experiment with the type or concentration of the soap.
A typical mixture uses a dilution of about two tablespoons of soap per cup of water.

For the wands, experiment with pipe cleaners to create a variety of shapes. To help form shapes, you can bend the pipe cleaners around small tubes or boxes. Twist or braid a few pipe cleaners together to increase their strength when you dip them in the soap solution.

  • Does the shape of the wand make a difference in the shape of the bubble formed?
  • What do you notice about the colors and the patterns of the soap film on the wands?
  • Do they change over time?

You can also experiment with bending the pipe cleaners into three-dimensional shapes.

  • How many different shapes can you make?
  • What do you notice about about the shape of the wand?
  • Do the films rearrange into a new shape if you pop some of the sides?

Pipe cleaners make good bubbles because they hold a lot of liquid, but they drip a lot! You can try other materials for your bubble wands such as plastic or metal wires, canned beverage six-pack rings, yogurt lids cut into spirals and more! Explore this website for more ideas on geometrical wands.

 TRY 062609 03767-soap-filmsCloseup WEB 

Attractive Electromagnets

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You will need:

  • A large iron nail (about 3 inches) or a screwdriver
  • A few feet of magnet wire or thin-coated insulated copper wire (you can find this at Radio Shack or a hardware store)
  • Scissors to cut the wire
  • A piece of sandpaper
  • A D-sized battery
  • A few pieces of masking, electrical, or other tape
  • Some paper clips

Cut a length of wire (try a foot or two). Leaving a few inches of the wire loose at one end, wrap the wire around the iron nail or the screwdriver without overlapping the coils, and then leave another few inches loose at the other end. Sand an inch of coating off each end of the wire with sandpaper.

When you tape the two ends of the wire to the battery, electricity flows inside the wire and and the wires, battery, and nail will get hot. Disconnect the wires from the battery when it gets warm, and allow the battery to cool before reconnecting. Always disconnect and store the battery separately from other items when you are done with your experiment!

As the electricity flows inside the coiled wire, it induces a magnetic field in the iron core of the nail. You've now generated an electromagnet, a magnet that is turned on and off by electricity!

Things to explore:

  • What do you notice when you bring the nail close to a few paper clips?
  • How many paper clips can you pick up?
  • Does it matter how many coils you wrap around the nail?
  • What happens to the strength of your electromagnet when you add another battery, or use a different size battery?
  • What other item can you pick up with your electromagnet?

 TRY 082614 IMG 3359 attractive electromagnet-Webpg-crop 

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Food Buoyancy

Let's do some kitchen experiments to see what may surprise you about what sinks or floats!

You will need:

  • Fruits and vegetables, including some with and without thick peels or rinds and some heavy and light ones. Examples: banana, orange, grapes, apple, bell pepper, potato, peas, zucchini;
  • A large bowl or tub;
  • Knife or knives;
  • Water;
  • Optional: Scale, cans of diet and regular soda, salt, egg

Fill your bowl or tub with enough water to cover the biggest produce. Examine your items and compare their sizes, shapes and weights. Do some feel solid or hollow? Which ones do you think will sink or float in water?

Test your predictions by placing each item in the tub to see if it sinks or floats. Does removing a rind or peel change the buoyancy? Does ripeness affect how items sink or float? What happens when you cut the food into smaller pieces? 


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