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Electric Balloons

How can static electricity be used
to move a soda can?
Try Electric balloon race IMG 8012 web

Each participant will need:

  • Balloons
  • At least one empty soda can
  • A head full of hair

Each person who wants to try this will place an empty soda can on a flat, smooth surface. Rub an inflated balloon on your hair really fast to build up a static electric charge on the balloon. Hold the charged balloon about an inch from the can, then slowly move it away from the can. Practice your technique to get the best movement. You could have a race or other contest. May the fastest or most well-directed can- with the most electrified balloon- win!

  • How fast will a soda can move?
  • Can it move up an incline?
  • Does it matter if your hair is wet, or contains other products?
  • What happens if you rub the balloon on fur, wool, cotton, or silk instead?
  • Can the charged balloon affect anything else? 


Colorful Cabbage

Did you know you can make a pH indicator using red cabbage?
Let's cook up some science!
TRY 2007-08WinterNL IMG 0091-300pw

You will need:

  • A small head of red cabbage
  • A large cooking pot
  • A strainer
  • A variety of liquid acids and bases (vinegar, lemon juice, detergents, clear soft drinks, baking soda diluted in water, window cleaner, etc.)
  • Small cups (paper, plastic or glass)

Cut the red cabbage into small pieces and place them in a big pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the cabbage and boil for twenty minutes, or until the water turns purple or blue. Wait for the liquid to cool, then strain out the cabbage and pour a couple of tablespoons of this liquid, which will be your pH indicator, into a number of small cups. Add a different acidic or basic liquid to each of the cups until the color changes.

  • What color changes do you notice?
  • Do some liquids generate similar color changes?
  • Do you notice anything else happening to these liquids, other than color changes?

What causes the color changes? Pigments called anthocyanins are present in red cabbage. These pigments change color depending on the pH of their environment. In acidic solutions, the pigments turn red/pink, in neutral solutions they stay blue/purple, and in basic solutions they turn yellow/green. You can try to find other pH indicators by testing various pink/purple fruits, fruit juices and flower petals. You can also visit and type in "pH" and "anthocyanins" to find out more.


Ooh-La-Lava Lamp

Oil and water don't mix, but you can use that
to your advantage to create a temporary and easy
homemade "lava lamp."TRY-Lava IMG 0338-cropWeb400pxw

You will need:

  • Cooking oil
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • A tall clear container (a glass or a narrow bottle)

Fill your container two-thirds full of water (optional: mix in a few drops of food coloring for contrast). Pour enough of the oil to get a half-inch layer on top of the water.

  • What do you notice when you sprinkle varying amounts of salt on top of the oil?
  • What happens if you use sugar instead of salt?
  • Do other liquids work as well?

TRY Lava-glass-close IMG 0362-re-Web

This lava lamp uses two insoluble liquids that have different densities, with the less dense oil floating on top of the denser water. When salt is sprinkled on the oil, it sinks and drags oil droplets to the bottom. As the salt dissolves in the water, it releases the less dense oil droplets, which float back up. Commercial lava lamps work differently. Heat at the base of the lamp causes the denser liquid at the bottom to warm up and expand, becoming less dense and rising to the surface. As it cools, it becomes denser and returns to the bottom, where heat begins the cycle again.




3... 2... 1... Launch!

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to launch these balloon rockets.
A little air pressure is all it takes.
CAM 061112 17846-re cc-Web-278px

You will need:

  • A balloon (a round or elongated one)
  • String (long enough to span a room)
  • Adhesive tape
  • A drinking straw

Tie one end of the string to the back of a chair (or another sturdy location like a doorknob) on one side of the room. Thread the string through the straw and then tie that end of the string tautly to another chair on the opposite side of the room. Inflate a balloon and pinch the end shut while you tape the balloon to the straw. Don't tie the balloon shut, just pinch it closed while you tape it. You might want a friend to help you. Now, let it go!

  • What do you notice when you release the balloon?
  • Does it matter how you tape the balloon on the straw?
  • Does the type of balloon, string or straw make a difference?
  • What happens if the string is at an incline or attached vertically to the ceiling?

You can also experiment with adding cardboard wings or rudders and see if you can get the balloon rocket to spiral as it moves forward.


Make a Compound Pendulum

Build your pendulum with pennies, string, and plastic bags
or film canisters and see what happens!
TRY pendulums IMG 0043 re web

You will need:

  • Two 35mm film canisters (and a couple spares) or
    small plastic bags or aluminum foil for penny containers
  • A few rubber bands
  • Two chairs
  • String: One 24" and two 8" pieces of string, plus extra string for more experiments
  • 20 or more pennies or other small objects of equal weight
  • A few paper clips
  • Pointy scissors

Film canister option: Carefully punch two holes in each lid with the scissors. Fasten the paper clip through the holes to create a hook. Put a few pennies in each canister and snap on the lids.
Plastic bag or aluminum foil option: Make a bundle to contain several pennies, and close the top with a rubber band. Shape the paper clip into a hook, and fasten each hook through the bundle's rubber band, so you can hang this "container" by the paper clip hook.

Attach the long string tautly and high across the legs of two chairs. Tie a short string to each paper clip, and then tie each short string to the long string so the containers hang at equal lengths. gently pull one container towards you and release it. Let it swing for a while, and observe what happens.

  • What happens if you use unequal lengths of string?
  • Is there a difference with different weights in the containers?
  • What happens if you add more containers to the line?

TRY pendulums closeup IMG 0076 re WEB


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