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Color Mix-Up

Try a colorful density experiment with oil, water, and food coloring. You can create fluid interactions using liquids of various densities.
IMG 0144 re cc

You will need:

  • Several small, clear plastic bottles with caps (remove labels)
  • A bottle a vegetable oil and/or baby oil (mineral oil)
  • A bottle of 70% and/or 90% rubbing alcohol
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Optional: Flashlight, funnel, light corn syrup, dish soap

Fill a clear, plastic bottle partway with either water or rubbing alcohol (a funnel may help), and add a dew drops of food coloring. Then, add some of one of the oils and cap the bottle.

  • What do you notice when you gently turn the bottle upside down, and then right side up again?
  • What happens to the liquids when you vigorously shake the bottle?
  • How long does it take for the liquids to mix or separate? A flashlight might help to observe bubble details.
  • As your're concocting bottles with different combinations of liquids, do you notice differences between how water or rubbing alcohol interacts with either oil?
  • Does it matter if you use 70% or 90% rubbing alcohol?
  • Do the vegetable oil and baby oil behave similarly? Do some combinations yield smaller oil droplets after shaking?
  • What do these fluid mixtures remind you of?
  • What happens if you try light corn syrup, or dish soap?


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? 


Bubbles and Soap Film Experiments

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

TRY 062609 03754-soapfilms-WEB

You will need:

  • Pipe cleaners (chenille sticks)
  • Dish soap (Dawn or Joy works best)
  • Plastic tub deep enough to submerge your wands
  • Water
  • Optional additives to soap solution:
    - Baking powder
    - Guar gum
    - Glycerin
  • Optional items to blow bubbles through:
    - Individual serving size yogurt tubs and/or
      thin plastic drinking water bottles, with ends cut off
    - Plastic hair curlers

Caution: Prepare to get wet and soapy. Surrounding areas will be slippery!

To make your soap solution you can experiment with the soap type or concentration.
A typical mixture uses a dilution of about two tablespoons of soap per cup of water, or for a larger tub, use 1 part of dish soap to 3½ - 4 parts of water. After you've got your favorite concentration of soap and water working, as an additional experiment, you may want to try adding very small amounts of baking powder, guar gum, or glycerin (start with less than a teaspoon).

To make soap film wands, experiment with pipe cleaners to create a variety of shapes. For simple bubble blowing, you can make flat, 2-D shapes on the end of the pipe cleaner, to blow bubbles through. 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 happens when you try blowing through a tube, such as one of the optional items above? Does the length or width of the tube matter? What else could you blow bubbles through?
  • What do you notice about the colors and the patterns of the bubbles or the soap films on the wands?
  • Do they change over time?

You can also experiment with bending the pipe cleaners into three-dimensional shapes. To help form your shape, you can bend the pipe cleaner around a small tube or box.

  • How many different shapes can you make?
  • What do you notice about about the shape of the wand, and the shapes formed by the soap films?
  • 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    OUT FAM IMG 1178 re CropcloserWeb


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.




Sink or Float?

Some objects sink and some float. Can you design one that does both, like a submarine?

You will need:

  • One or more plastic film canisters* for your "submarine(s)"
    *You may get empty film canisters from many local photofinishing locations that process film, and if you have a choice, the clear-whitish ones let you see what's going on inside!
  • 2 liter soda bottle with the top third cut off to hold your "ocean"
  • Water
  • Several Alka-Seltzer® type of fizzy tablets
  • Handful of pennies
  • Scissors

Carefully, make a small hole on the lid of the film canister with the pointy ends of a pair of scissors. (Adults help younger kids). Fill up your ocean two-thirds of the way with water and you're ready to go diving! 

  • How can you make your submarine sink to the bottom of the ocean?
  • What is the fewest number of pennies you can add to get it barely sink?
  • What happens when you now add a piece of a fizzy tablet to your submarine and close the lid? It may splash a bit!
  • Does the amount of water or fizzy tablet make a difference in the action of your submarine?
  • How can you get your submarine to sink, and then slowly rise to the surface two, five, or ten seconds later? Does it matter how your submarine lies on the ocean floor for it to be able to float back up?
  • Does the size of the hole have an impact on the way the submarines behave?


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