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3 Awesome Experiments Dads Can Do With Their Kids

There are few things more satisfying than doing science experiments with your children. There are so many benefits! First, it's a great way to spend family time together. Second, it will feed your child's curiosity and spark an interest in science. Third, it's a lot of fun! And fourth, but most important, you will impress your child with your intelligence and skills. And you don't even have to have intelligence and skills if you have the right guidance.

That's why we are happy to bring you an excerpt from Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments: From Boiling Ice and Exploding Soap to Erupting Volcanoes and Launching Rockets, 30 Inventive Experiments to Excite the Whole Family! It's a new book by Mike Adamick that gives you step-by-step instructions adn explanations for impressive science experiments that will convince your children that you, Dad or Mom, Grandma or Uncle, are indeed awesome. The book ships on April 18th, but as a sneak preview, here are three of the thirty awesome experiments from the book.

Volcano Time!

If you grew up watching endless Brady Bunch reruns you’re probably familiar with Peter Brady’s volcano—a mud-spewing, steep-sided science project that sent showers of muck and sludge all over Peter’s sister, Marsha, and her snooty friends. It was the coolest thing ever.



There’s a good chance that this one episode alone launched our love affair with kitchen-sink volcano projects—an experiment so simple that you and your lab partner can most likely do it right now with stuff you already have in the kitchen. All you really need is vinegar, baking soda, and a bottle to mix them in, but it is much cooler to use good ol’ fashioned backyard dirt to construct a volcano model around the bottle first and then conduct the experiment.

Either way you do it, this is a science experiment with serious thrills. But it also expertly mimics what happens under the earth’s crust to create volcanic eruptions.

Here’s Why It Works

When the solid baking soda (sodium bicarbonate—a base) mixes with the liquid vinegar (acetic acid—a weak acid), a chemical reaction occurs and forms a gas (carbon dioxide). All those bubbles and foam? They’re evidence of gas, and as the gas expands, it looks for an escape route for all that built-up pressure. So the foam and bubbles rise until they flood out of your bottle’s opening.

Pretty much the same exact thing is happening under the earth right now.

The earth’s crust is made up of many sections of superthick shell—65-plus miles thick!—called tectonic plates that are always moving, very slowly, over the much, much hotter inner earth. Most of the world’s volcanoes are found where two or more of these tectonic plates meet one another. Sometimes those plates shift and sometimes they collide, forming escape routes in the earth’s crust for molten rocks and gas, called magma. Much like the carbon dioxide in your baking soda–vinegar experiment seeks the quickest escape route to relieve pressure, the gases in the underground magma do the same thing before erupting out of a volcano.

Not all eruptions are alike, however. Sometimes the gases in the magma are easily released from the earth’s crust and the result is a slow, oozing spread of superhot lava. But  sometimes the gases stay trapped beneath cooled magma and rock building up pressure until they erupt in violent explosions that can send ash and boulders flying up to 20 miles high. In fact, airplane pilots keep track of volcano activity around the earth, just to be sure they don’t fly into clouds of dangerous ash.

Here’s What You Need



Baking soda

Vinegar

A bottle (a good vase with a wide bottom and slender top also works well, but use whatever you can find)

Red food dye

String

Toilet paper

Here’s What You Do



1. First add the vinegar to your bottle and  dye it red with food coloring. Then, rip out a few sheets of toilet paper and make a pouch for the baking soda. Use your string to tie the pouch and then insert the pouch into your bottle, using the bottle cap to hold the other end of the string so that the pouch dangles above your “lava.” (See Fig. 1.)

2. If you’re feeling super science-y/crafty, let your lab partner shape a volcano model out of backyard mud and dirt around the bottle. Note: you don’t have to do this, but go big or go home, right?

3. When your volcano model is ready, lift the cap and watch the pouch drop into the lava. It will foam up slowly, mimicking the slow buildup of earth’s gases, until the vinegar fully soaks the tissue paper. Then, the fun really begins, as the foam begins to climb the bottle, looking for an escape route. Just stand back, and watch the foam erupt. It’s really that easy!



Want More?

There are many, many ways to perform this experiment, so don’t be afraid to get creative.Try mixing the vinegar and baking soda in a bottle, and then quickly place a balloon over the bottle opening. While this doesn’t create a lava explosion, the gases will inflate the balloon. Pretty cool, right? Or, put baking soda in small snack-size zip bag and seal tightly with a bit of air in the bag. Place the baking
soda bag in a larger zip bag that is filled with vinegar and seal that bag tightly, with as little air as possible in the big bag. Now use your fist to smash the tiny baking soda bag and stand back. You just made a sandwich bag bomb, using the same chemical reactions as your volcano.

Rock Candy Crystals

Full disclosure: We messed up with this one. We messed up with this one gooooood.

Not only did we—I—mess it up, but we invited over a friend, got her superduper excited about making rock candy, and even gave her extra rock candy sticks and jars of goo mix to share with her brother and sister.

“It should be ready in a week!” we told her, “Have fun!”

Then we sent her merrily on her way with a rock candy kit that was just absolutely, completely messed up.

I imagined her checking her rock candy stick every day for a week, just waiting for it to work—maybe, perhaps, telling her siblings how amazingly awesome it was going to be. Poor kid. She had no idea I had messed up this experiment.

But you know. Sometimes science is like that. So what do you do? You roll up your sleeves and experiment some more.

Rock candy making is usually one of the coolest ways to see the formation of crystals in action. It’s really quite simple: You boil some sugar and water, add some flavoring or some food dye—or heck, both. And then you dump it in a jar, add a sugar-coated stick for the rock candy to form on, and then a week or so later there it is: pure sugar joy. It’s the process of molecules clinging together in action. It’s also quite delicious.

Just make sure not to accidentally scrape the sugar off the stick when inserting it into your jar, because then you’ll have nothing for the sugar crystals to form on— and you’ll also have a pack of upset seven-year-olds who think you enjoy teasing children. Not. Fun.

So here’s what will hopefully be a surefire way to make rock candy, see crystals in action, and not upset all the neighborhood kids.



Here’s Why It Works

In short, the sugar molecules stick to each other, growing and growing as more and more molecules stick together.

Now for the long explanation: With the sugar water, you have created a saturated solution, which basically means the liquid (water) can’t hold any more compound (sugar). The molecules, a mashup of atoms that make sugar sugar, are crowded around in your solution and start to bump into each other, sometimes sticking together in a process called nucleation. During this process, the crystals form and grow bigger when more and more sugar molecules stick to each other. After just a day or so, the growth is visible. After a week, it should be big enough to look mighty tempting. I don’t know what it looks like after two weeks, because we can never resist eating it for that long.

By adding a sugarcoated string or stick to your solution, you kick-start the nucleation process by giving the molecules a great place to latch onto. (Remember how we messed this one up? By scraping the sugar off the stick, we didn’t give the sugar molecules a place to latch onto in order to kick-start crystallization. Instead, all the crystals started forming on the bottom of our jar, where all the starter crystals had fallen. Hopefully you will learn from our mistakes. You’re welcome.)

If you’d like, set up two experiments. In one, sugarcoat a stick before adding it into the solution, and in the other try not sugarcoating a stick. See what happens. Just be prepared to be the one scraping sugar crystals off the bottom of the jar while your kid’s snacking on some delicious rock candy.

Here’s What You Need



2 cups water

4 cups sugar, plus a little extra to coat sticks or pipe cleaners

Saucepan

Mason jar—small, big, whatever you have

Food dye and/or flavor oils (optional)

Long wooden toothpick and/or pipe cleaners or butcher’s twine

Pencil or more wooden toothpicks

String for tying, if needed

Here’s What You Do

1. Heat up your water to a light boil and then add sugar a bit at a time until it is dissolved in the mix before adding more. Keep adding more until all your sugar dissolves in the boiling syrup and you have a nice goopy soup of sugar. Then let the mixture come to a rolling boil for a little bit—maybe 30 seconds.

Note: I usually don’t preach adult supervision because kids can, more often than not, do stuff a lot better than adults anyway and how are they going to learn if they’re not allowed to make mistakes? But boiling sugar absolutely scares the bejesus out of me. If that stuff gets on anyone, it’s not only going to burn, it’s going to stick and burn. And that just sucks beyond words. So there you go. A warning. Be careful.

2. Once the mixture has boiled for 30 seconds, remove from heat and add food dye or flavor oil if you’d like. A few drops of dye or a capful of vanilla or spearmint should do the trick quite nicely.

3. Let the mixture cool, then have your lab partner add it to the Mason jar, and set it aside to cool some more.

4. While the mixture is cooling, wet your stick or pipe cleaners and then sprinkle with sugar. If you use butcher’s twine, dip it into your newly created sugar mix and then remove to dry for a day. This gives a rough surface for the sugar crystals to latch into and begin formation. It’s like seeding them for crystal growth.



5. Once everything is relatively cool—it doesn’t have to be room temperature; warm will do—add your stick or cleaner to the mix. You can tie the pipe cleaner to a pencil and then lay the pencil over the mouth of the jar, so that the pipe cleaner doesn’t touch the bottom of your jar. (This is where we messed up, because we put the Mason jar tin lid back on, poked some holes in it, and then tried to force our sugar sticks through the holes. All the sugar scraped off and there was nothing for crystals to form onto. Oh well. Keep Calm and Science On.)

6. Now the waiting game begins. You should start to see some good crystallization in a day or so. Store in a dark space for a week and keep track of the crystal growth. Feel free to let the crystals grow as big as you’d like. But a solid week usually does the trick. When you’re ready, remove the cleaner or stick from the mix and let dry on a plate or in another jar for a few hours to dry. Then, inspect and enjoy. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Did You Know?

People all over the world and throughout history have used rock candy for medicinal purposes, mixing herbs or alcohol in the solution to create throat lozenges, for instance.

Mentos and Coke Rocket

This is a home science project and play-date experiment that your kids will love! At its heart, it’s very simple. You add Mentos mints to a bottle of Diet Coke (this particular soda works best!) and watch what happens. Trust me, you’re going to be impressed by the massive, foamy eruption that occurs.

Although this is a simple experiment using simple household foodstuffs, you’d be surprised at the level of study it has spawned in the scientific community, as researchers tried to determine whether the eruption came from a chemical reaction or a physical reaction. Even the popular show Mythbusters conducted Mentos and Coke experiments. So the next time you’re at the store, stock up on the supplies and get ready to spend an afternoon playing mad, happy scientist in the backyard. But take note: Make sure you have a hose on hand to wash away all the excess soda and candy.

Science is fun. Household ant invasions?

Not so much . . .

Here’s Why It Works

In short, when you combine the Mentos and cola, an eruption occurs. Instead of a chemical reaction—the event that occurs when the ingredients of the mint and soda combine—the eruption comes from a physical reaction called nucleation, which basically means that you’ve given the gas in the liquid a place to form bubbles. You see, soda is made fizzy when carbon dioxide gas is added into the water. Because water molecules like to stick very tightly together there typically isn’t a place for the gas to form bubbles so the gas remains suspended in the water. But then you add the Mentos . . .

These mints are unique because their surface is covered with millions of tiny craters and holes: the perfect little places for the suspended gas to suddenly cling to and form bubbles. When you put your finger in the soda or in bubbly water, you’ll see how bubbles suddenly form on your skin. That’s nucleation in action. The same thing happens with the Mentos mints, but on a much, much larger scale. Plus, the mints sink, allowing gas bubbles throughout the bottle to form on the mints’ downward journey. More bubbles means more gas is being released and pretty soon all those bubbles add up and voilà: eruption!

Here’s What You Need



Mentos mints

Diet Coke (The bigger the bottle the better; again Diet Coke works best but feel free to experiment with other liquids.)

Rocket materials: used paper towel or toilet paper roll, paper, scissors, tape, twine or floss, decorations as desired

Here’s What You Do



1. The rocket building and launching can all be done by your junior rocket scientist, with you on the side for help. Have her use a toilet paper or paper towel roll for the rocket body. Cut out some paper and roll it into a nose cone, applying it to the top of the rocket with tape. Cut out some more paper for side wings, which will act as stabilizers during liftoff. (See Fig. 1.)



2. Next, cut two long slits in the side of your rocket, parallel to the bottom and across from each other. Later, you should be able to slip a piece of paper between these slits. Turn the rocket over so that the nose is facing the ground and then add as many mints as you’d like through the bottom of the rocket— the more the better. (See Fig. 2.)

3. Then, add a slip of paper or card stock into the slits, so that when you turn the rocket back over, the paper provides a barrier and the mints won’t fall out. Tape string to the slip of paper to act as a “launch cord.”

4. Place the rocket on top of the open bottle and back away with the “launch cord” in hand. (See Fig. 3.) The mints will rest on the paper until you pull it out—at which point the mints will then fall into the bottle and the soda will erupt. The geyser is fast and fun and worth doing on its own just to see the amazing gush of gassy foam. Have fun!
 

Want More?

If you don’t want to build a rocket, the absolute easiest way to do this experiment is to open the Diet Coke bottle and quickly slip in a handful of Mentos mints—and then stand back as fast as possible. You’ll likely get soaked in sugary bliss if you don’t.



In addition, the really great thing about this experiment is how many variables you can add. Will fruit Mentos work just as well as mint Mentos? How about other candies? Or materials? How about other sodas, or bubbly water? Have fun trying different sodas or bubbly liquids with different candies to see how high you can boost your rocket. This is a perfect experiment to work on your graphing skills, charting out which materials and which sodas create the biggest eruptions. Or, for a really messy experiment, pop a Mentos into your mouth but don’t chew it. Take a small swig of Diet Coke and prepareto start foaming at the mouth! For an even cooler option, try adding a Mentos to a bottle, screwing the lid on quickly, shaking it up and throwing it in the air as high as you can–but watch out; that bottle could go anywhere. Fun times.


There are 27 other experiments in Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments by Mike Adamick, available at Amazon and other bookstores.

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