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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Last-Minute Science Fair Project

So Junior and his little brother showed up on my doorstep around 5 this afternoon.
"Can you help me with my science fair project?" Junior asked.

"When's it due?" I asked back.


Of course. Well, let's hear it for the Internet--a little web surfing produced a project we could actually do in a little more than an hour. I tried looking for a quick save-the-rear-end project last Friday, when Peter Pan asked me, but everything I found on that web tour required equipment I didn't have in the house.

Today I had better luck. I found an experiment that investigated how well popcorn pops in the microwave starting from different temperatures. We kind of skated between two different versions of the experiment I found online. Junior had to count out 100 kernels of corn three times, putting each 100 into a different Ziploc bag. One bag went in the freezer, one in the fridge and we microwaved the third batch right away at room temperature. The fridge and freezer batches were left to chill for an hour.

We predicted the freezer bag of kernels would have the most unpopped kernels, but for us it was actually the fridged bad that had the most. We took lots of digital photos of Junior counting kernels and putting the bags in the fridge/freezer. We also took pictures of the results--each batch of popcorn, labeled, in two bowls: one for popped and one for unpopped kernels. They were pretty close in amounts, between 42 and 55 unpopped kernels, so you probably won't be able to see the difference in the photos. But hey, we tried. At least he won't get an F.

If anybody happens to have leads on other science fair experiments you can do with stuff in your kitchen reasonably quickly, let me know. I should start keeping a file, and I should really start keeping useful equipment around. Here are some things I spotted that I don't have in the house but should:
cloth tape measure
food coloring
empty spray/spritzer bottle

I saw a couple of experiments I liked about diffusion. In one, you test how quickly different types of food coloring diffuse into water. In another, you test how quickly different scented liquids (perfume, essential oils, whatever) diffuse into the air. The other experiment I liked was having different kinds of people (ages, gender, whatever) see how far they could blow up a balloon in one breath.

Anyway, suggestions are welcome. I'm getting a rep as the last-minute science fair bailout center, so I might as well have the resources to do the job right.


Anonymous said...

This is Julia, Susan's friend. I am passing along these suggestions in the spirit of repaying the karma bank for the kind adults who bailed me out of science fair panic twice as a kid. I was in 9 and 10, respectively, when I used these:
1. The Siphon. We set up three glass Coke bottles (dating myself a little here) and filled the first with water. Then we took a thin flexible length of rubber tubing and started a siphon to get the water going from the first into the second, and then again from the second into the third.

This was cool because everyone liked watching the demonstration, and then I had a posterboard explaining how the siphon works along with a short spiel I said about it.

I think you could use any kind of glass bottle, but preferably not plastic because you want the bottles to be heavy enough to stand up securely when empty and while you're getting the tube set up.

I actually applied the lessons learned from this last minute bailout recently when my air conditioner started leaking into my kitchen ceiling. I found that the drainage pan under the unit was full, and to empty it in such a tight space, I had to use a siphon.

2. Density and the Surface Tension of Water. We set up a few small, shallow dishes of water and dropped things into them. I remember a toothpick and a marble, but I am pretty sure there were others. The toothpick floats and the marble sinks. I explained that things with a greater density than water sink. I had photos of waterbugs standing up and walking on the surface of the water.

Another variation could be putting different amounts of salt into the water to see how that effects floating.

As for the surface tension, I don't think I got into a very technical explanation, but just said that the surface of water acts like an elastic sheet. I guess that depending on the age/interest/ability of the kid involved, you could adjust that to whatever level of explanation works for them.

I judged science fair projects a few times here for one of my friends who is a teacher, and the following were crowd-pleasers, and I think they could also be done last minute (some more so than others).

1. Volcano in a bottle (vinegar, baking soda, food coloring to make it look cool, and if you put in liquid hand soap it foams excitingly).
2. Capillary action--cut the white end off a stalk of celery (with leaves) and put in a glass of water with food coloring. As the celery sucks up the water, you can see the food coloring move up the stalk and to the leaves. This might work overnight, but you might want to test it first just to be sure that it doesn't need a full 24-48 hours. I don't remember how long it took.

I hope these ideas help!

Maritza said...

Thanks, Julia! I especially like the capillary action one. Food coloring is definitely high on my list of items to stash in the closet for next year.

I went over to Chavez today to find out when the actual science fair will be held. It's tomorrow, and now I'm a judge. Whoo-hoo.

Anonymous said...

I loved judging--it was so fun! I hope you have a good time and get some more ideas for your "Nice White Lady" file of science fair ideas. :)

Anice said...

hate to be a science-fair nerd here, but several of those "experiments" proposed are not actually experiments, they are demonstrations. Teachers probably want to see the application of the scientific method, which includes a hypothesis, methodology, results, etc.... even as early as 3rd grade, we were required to do that. The popcorn one would have qualified! If you're going to do it, might as well get an A!

Maritza said...

Anice, you're right, and this science teacher is really trying to push for scientific method (and other cool concepts--more later on that).

I wonder if you could do the capillary action demonstration with different liquids to see which could go farthest (the least viscosity would travel farthest, I imagine.)

Anonymous said...

get a good set of glass grad cylinders to do lots of things, like measure air content in ice creams, evaporation rates, also do the glowey things really have prolonged life when put in the freezer?

Maritza said...

where do you get graduated cylinders? do they have to be ordered, or can you go somewhere and buy them?

Jenee said...

Thank you for the last minute science fair project. It worked out great for us!

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