Science fair season is nearly upon us, and it’s time to answer that age-old question — what science project will help your kid or kids win the science fair this year? If you’re still looking for ideas, or just want a few experiments to hold in reserve for a rainy afternoon, here are some fun and easy experiments to put together for your kids or for those of us who are still kids at heart. Just a reminder before we begin, always supervise children and use caution while conducting experiments as they can pose a health and safety risk (full disclaimer is here).
Fun with Electromagnetism
We’ve all played with refrigerator magnets, picking up paper clips and straight pins to see how long a chain we can make before the magnetic field fails. What if you could make your own magnet?
- A length of copper wire (the longer the wire, the stronger the magnet)
- An iron nail
- A battery. (D-Cell or 9 Volt works best, but any large battery should work).
To make an electromagnet, all you need to do is wrap the copper wire around the iron nail as many times as you can — the more wraps, the stronger the magnet will be. Then touch the ends of the copper wire to the two poles of the battery and watch the magnetism magic begin!
Make a few different magnets by using different lengths of wire to see which one is strongest! If you want to see the actual magnetic field, try putting some iron filings on a paper plate and put the electromagnet beneath the plate — you’ll see the filings move around to take the shape of the magnetic field.
Make Your Own Slime
Leaving out the borax doesn’t mean that you can’t make slime — here are a few ideas!
- Fake Snot Slime — Mix 3 teaspoons of lime gelatin in half a cup of boiling water. Then add ¼ cup of corn syrup, mixing until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Stretchy Slime — Mix ¼ of white school glue with food coloring until it reaches your desired color. Then add ¾ teaspoon of baking soda and mix well. Then, you’re going to add eye drops to activate the slime — add 10 drops at a time and stir until it reaches a slime like consistency.
- Ooblek — This is probably the simplest slime, and a great science experiment. Simply mix two parts cornstarch with one part water. This non-Newtonian fluid will be slimy if you move slow, but will harden if you smack it or move fast. Try filling up a kiddy pool with it and running across the surface!
Slime is a great way to learn about surface tension and consistency. Try all three examples and compare how each feel!
Hands-Free Ice Lifting
Lifting ice out of a drink is a recipe for cold fingers. Play with thermodynamics with this next experiment.
- Ice cubes
Set your ice cubes on a plate or in your drink, if you don’t mind salty drinks. Lay the thread across the top of the ice cube, and sprinkle it with salt. Wait a few seconds and you should be able to use the thread to lift the ice cube! This is due to the fact that salt causes the ice to melt, but it also lowers the melting point of the water, so the ice melts and then refreezes around the string, making it easy to lift the ice cube clear of the water.
The Classic Volcano
You can’t have a kid’s science fair without a classic volcano! Thankfully, these are easy to put together. All you need is:
- A volcano — clay stands up better to repeated eruptions, but paper mache and even cardboard can also be used.
- Baking soda
- Food coloring — red and yellow.
- Villagers — you know, for effect!
First, you need to find or make a volcano. If you’re going to make it erupt more than once, make it out of clay or something sturdy. If it only needs to erupt once, you can use paper mache, plaster, or cardboard.
In the crater of the volcano, you’re going to need to make or place a container to hold the eruption. In this container, place some baking soda. You shouldn’t need more than ¼ of a cup. Put a few drops of red and yellow food coloring on top of the baking soda — this helps to color the lava.
Now, add vinegar and stand back — you’ve got a volcano! The eruption is caused by the chemical reaction between an acid (vinegar) and a base (baking soda). For easy cleanup, try building your volcano in a turkey pan or other container that will keep the mess from spilling out.
The villagers are optional — but they do add to the effect.
You’re never too old for a good science experiment. If you haven’t tried these out before, give them a try! You won’t regret it and who knows? You might learn something!