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An orange scrub brush gives a family science activity a boost of jack-o-lantern-inspired fun and leads to a great robotics exploration.

Brushbot hands-on Halloween robotics science activity

Ever since the new Brushbot family science activity launched at Science Buddies, with electronics components conveniently bundled in a multi-project kit from the Science Buddies Store, I have had it on my "must make" list for my kids.

Thinking it would be cool to couple trick-or-treat month and the robotics project, I decided we would make a Halloween-themed Brushbot. Intent on tying our bot into October's mix of pumpkins, ghosts, and ghouls, I dug around online until I (finally) turned up a small scrub brush that seemed just right in terms of color. (It is harder than you might expect to find an orange scrub brush! Plus, for this project, you need a scrub brush without a handle.)


A Simple but Successful Build

On a roadmap of robotics projects, the Brushbot is a stepping stone early in the path, right there with the friendly toothbrush head Bristlebots. Despite the googly eye charm of the sample shown in the Science Buddies activity, with its simple circuit and limited number of parts, I worried that it might be a bit too easy of a build (compared to working with a breadboard) to capture my student's interest.

I was wrong!


A Blueprint for Success

The steps of the Brushbot activity are very simple to follow. There are a limited number of pieces involved in hooking things together, and the activity does an excellent job of providing easy-to-follow directions (with photos).

In minutes, my son had the circuit complete and was wriggling the cork onto the motor. A few minutes after that, he was able to flip the brushbot on and see it go.

Unfortunately, after a few seconds of scuttling to one side, the brushbot fell over. He set it upright and let it loose again. It fell over. Time after time, the brushbot fell over almost immediately.

Rather than being a stumbling block or a "fail" in terms of the science activity, his brushbot's initial lack of stability was actually a wonderful fulcrum for exploration. He had positioned his cork the way the directions instruct, but he was seeing unexpected behavior from his brushbot.

He hypothesized why he thought it was falling over—and he started testing to see if he could improve and stabilize the movement of the bot.


A Robot in Hand

Contrary to the basic bristlebot and the light-tracking bristlebot, both of which we made last year, the brushbot is chunky. It is hand-sized. Its few and large parts are also easy to tinker with. The positioning and placement of the cork on the motor, for example, offers ample room for experimentation and testing that offers immediate, clear, and visible results for a young robotics engineer. How fast does it move? Does it move in one direction only? Does it stay upright? Does it move in a circle or in a line?

My student tried a number of positions for the cork, noting how the bot's movement changed each time. He also experimented with adding a good bit of extra electrical tape to secure the motor more firmly to the brush. (This did improve the balance and movement of his brushbot.)

Even after the initial "project" was over, throughout the day, he picked the brushbot up again several times, watched it scuttle around on the floor, and tinkered a bit more. He tried more than one cork (they vary in size and thickness), too, to see what difference those variables might make.


Great Introductory Robotics

Because the circuitry is less complicated than other bots we have built, there was less need to worry about the intricacies of the electronics components and the circuit. Instead of making the project too easy, this seems to have invited my student to spend more time tinkering with the brushbot and putting the engineering design process in action.

We didn't have googly eyes on hand. But we improvised some pumpkin-shaped eyes and mouth on pieces of duct tape that we attached to the front. (Admittedly, this was more important to me than to him. Your success with decorating your bot will vary based on your student!)

No matter how you decorate it or what color brush you use, the brushbot has potential to have a lot of personality and individual pizzazz, but it also offers a lot of hands on engineering satisfaction for students--and fast gratification.

There is not much that can "go wrong" with a robotics project like this one, which makes it a great entry point project for families and kids just beginning to experiment with robotics and electronics.


Extend the Fun

If your students enjoy making the Brushbot, be sure and check these other posts and projects:




Support for resources and Project Ideas in robotics is provided by Northrop Grumman, Symantec Corporation, and the Best Buy Foundation.

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Homemade Compass: Weekly Science Activity


Make a Homemade Compass Physics Activity and DIY Project  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a physics-focused family science activity that can help everyone in the family get a better sense of where you are—or in what direction you are heading. In this activity, students make a small, working compass using part of a cork, a needle, and a magnet. Once the compass is created, students can put it to the test. Does the direction the homemade compass points match up to what another navigational device or app says? Families can experiment with other versions of the same type of compass made using different kinds of magnets—or even a leaf instead of cork! How does a homemade compass work? What does a compass have to do with the Earth's magnetic field? And what kinds of problems might alter the effectiveness of a homemade compass? This is fun hands-on science for young explorers, mapmakers, and those curious about magnetism.

Families can make their own compass using the Science Buddies activity at Scientific American:

For another fun hands-on science project involving magnetism, see the following project and blog post at Science Buddies:



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Tie-Dye Using Permanent Markers Chemistry Activity and DIY Project  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a chemistry-focused family science and craft activity that lets students explore the concept of solubility while using permanent markers to decorate a T-shirt (or piece of fabric). Permanent markers are designed to be lasting, so what happens when you add water? What happens when you add alcohol? Does the marker ink react the same to both water and alcohol? Put these questions to the test in a fun hands-on science experiment. At the end of the project, students will have designed a cool tie-dye piece, too. This is science you can wear!

Permanent marker-based tie-dye is a fun spin on traditional tie-dyeing and a lot less messy! (But do be careful, permanent markers are called permanent for a reason.)

Families can explore solubility and marker-based tie-dye in the following Science Buddies activity at Scientific American:

For additional science exploration related to markers, the dyes in markers, and tie-dye, see the following projects at Science Buddies:




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Brushbot from the Bristlebot robotics kit at Science Buddies
Above: The Brushbot is one of the three robots kids can build using the Bristlebot Kit from the Science Buddies Store.

A brand new Bristlebot Kit launched today in the Science Buddies Store. With this new kit, students can experiment with three styles of introductory robots and learn more about robotics engineering. The kit has been specially designed to make building the robots easier for students to do independently—and fun!

The new Bristlebot Kit contains components for use with several Science Buddies Project Ideas and activities, including:

For more information about introducing robotics engineering projects to K-12 students at school or at home, see the following:



Support for resources and Project Ideas in robotics is provided by Northrop Grumman, Symantec Corporation, and the Best Buy Foundation.

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See tonic water glow under a black light  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a chemistry-focused family science activity that puts light energy, ultraviolet light, and visible light on display. With ordinary tonic water and a black light, families can learn more about ultraviolet light. What happens to the glow when you add a bit of bleach to the tonic water? Put it to the test to find out!




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When you combine your circuitry know-how with fabric, you can, literally, wear your electronics on your sleeve.

Red, white, and blue monster soft circuit patch
Above: this little monster is a fun and kid-friendly electronic textile patch that lights up red, white, and blue!

There will be plenty of loud, booming, and colorful nighttime celebrations for this week's 4th of July. Even before the sun goes down, the sounds of fireworks begin, sometimes starting days in advance of the official holiday. The Discover the Flaming Colors of Fireworks family science activity is a great way to get hands-on with a science investigation that helps kids hook science to the anticipated fireworks finale, but you don't have to set something on fire to create a portable burst of celebratory color and light!

While you wait for your local Independence Day fireworks display to start, you (and your kids) can create your own red, white, and blue light-up display, one you can wear, wave, or carry. With a needle, some conductive thread, and a few electronics parts, you can sew your own lighted soft circuit to show off your national pride.

The LED Dance Glove project guides students in creating an introductory soft circuit. Also known as a wearable textile, electronic textile, or e-textile, this kind of fabric- and thread-based electronics project approaches wiring and circuitry from a new—softer—angle. Sew the components in place, being careful not to cross threads and keeping positive and negative traces separate, and you can add electronics to clothing or other fabric items.

The glove in the project can be used to create cool light effects in the dark. (See the project background information to learn more about competitions involving LED glove light shows!) Change things up a bit, and you can create your own gloves for the 4th of July using a combination of red, white, and blue LEDs or white gloves. Or, use the same general e-textiles approach and add an LED soft circuit to a backpack, a jacket, wrist band, or hat.

The LED Dance Glove project at Science Buddies features a simple circuit with an on and off switch, a coin cell battery holder, and some Lilypad LEDs. The project requires no programming (the lights are either flipped on or off), so the project is a great first step in designing and sewing wearable electronics. Sew the elements of the circuit in place, flip the switch, and wear your science with pride!

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Fireworks displays are fun to watch and a tradition accompanying many community celebrations. With a simple family science activity, the mystery behind the dazzling night-time sky show can be explored. This is colorful hands-on summer science—minus the "boom" of fireworks explosions!

Fireworks / science activity to see what makes the colors

What makes all the great colors you see during a fireworks display? Experiment with a fun backyard family science activity to see firsthand how different chemicals produce different colors when burned.

Find other great hands-on science activities for families to do together in the Science Buddies Science Activities area.

Do you and your family head out each 4th of July to watch fireworks in your neighborhood? Do you tune in on New Year's Eve to watch fireworks that herald the start of the new year? In cities big and small, many hours of planning, preparation, and staging result in awe-inspiring fireworks displays designed to dazzle watchers with the biggest, brightest, and best bursts of color and light.

If the skies are clear, fireworks are sure to elicit oohs, ahhs, and cheers. From big explosions of color to subtle pops that splatter the sky with colorful trails, fireworks displays are full of amazing effects. Do you have a favorite fireworks pattern? Maybe you really like the Chrysanthemum, the Willow, or the Spider? Or maybe you love a good Saturn Shell or ring?

The shape (what it looks like when it explodes) of a fireworks effect varies, as does the height at which the fireworks climb before they explode. But part of what makes fireworks so mesmerizing is their color in the night sky.


Making Science Connections

You and your students can experiment with hands-on science to better understand what causes the colors you see in the sky during a fireworks demonstration. The Discover the Flaming Colors of Fireworks science activity is a fun way for you and your family to do science that ties in with popular July 4th celebrations in the US this week (or for Bastille Day celebrations later this month, or to better understand fireworks that happen any time of the year!).

The hands-on activity guides you and your students in experimenting with two different readily-available chemicals to see what colors these chemicals produce when burned. One of the chemicals you will use is ordinary table salt (sodium chloride). The other, copper sulfate, can be obtained from a pet store. These two chemicals will produce flame colors that are clearly different from one another, making this science that students can easily "see"—even in the dark!


More Chemicals, More Colors

For students wanting to investigate the colors of flame produced when other chemicals burn, or for students interested in turning this science activity into a full-scale science project, the Rainbow Fire kit from the Science Buddies Store contains the chemicals required to do the more comprehensive set of flame tests described in the Rainbow Fire physics project idea.

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Explore how gases contract and expland  / Hand-on STEM experiment

In this week's spotlight: a chemistry family science experiment that guides students and families in an exploration of how gases behave, especially when they are cooled or heated. Many gases are invisible, but they are everywhere around us. By trapping gas in a balloon, you can investigate how the kinetic energy of a gas changes in response to temperature and how the change in the motion of the gas molecules makes the balloon shrink or expand. With some hands-on measurements, a bit of air spent filling up some balloons, and some chill time for a few of the filled balloons, students can "see" what happens!



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A magic milk rainbow may be all about what's happening at the surface level between milk and soap, but when kids create the magic, the learning excitement is palpable. For Lily Arendt, hands-on science activities are a great way to help kids uncover the magic of science. We couldn't agree more!

Lily Arendt and a class of students explore surface tension with a Milk Rainbow science activity.
Above: Lily Arendt and a class of students explore surface tension with the Make a Milk Rainbow science activity.


For Lily Arendt, a biology student at DePaul University in Chicago and a participant on the Miss America beauty pageant circuit, engaging students, especially girls, with science and inspiring them to ask science questions and experiment to find answers is an issue she's putting front and center both as her pageant platform and with students in her hometown.

Lily recently took the Science Buddies Make a Milk Rainbow activity, part of the brand new Science Buddies Activities area, into fifth and sixth grade classrooms in Green Bay, Wisconsin to bring cool chemistry into the classroom and give students a chance to get hands-on with some awe-inspiring science.

After spending time with students in four different classes, Lily says the kids' enthusiastic response to the milk rainbow experiment was unanimous. "I was thrilled to see that all four classes were equally excited about the experiment!"

The project involves the reaction between food dye, dish soap, and milk. With these simple ingredients, four individual drops of food coloring can be mixed and swirled into a rainbow or a spin-art-style display by touching a cotton-tipped swab dipped in soap to the surface of the milk. The science of surface tension and surfactants helps demystify what is going on, but it looks a lot like magic when the colors begin to move away from the swab even though they were not touched. This is a colorful science experiment that is sure to bring oohs and ahhs.

Lily says she, too, was wowed when she first tried out the milk rainbow experiment. "I was just as impressed with the movement of the food coloring as the kids were! I definitely believe this experiment has an element of science 'magic' that all ages would enjoy."

In the classroom activity, Lily helped the students set up the demonstration, and then she stepped back, letting the kids get hands on to see what happened as they, not a teacher, touched the swab to the surface of the milk. A swab with nothing on it caused the milk to behave one way. But a swab dipped in soap caused something entirely different to happen! This kind of active learning can be incredibly empowering for students who think science is something that happens in a lab somewhere by real scientists.

Supplementing science education with opportunities for active learning is what Science Buddies project ideas and now science activities are all about. With great ideas and blueprints for science experiments scaled for independent study or fun family weekends, Science Buddies is helping students, teachers, and parents take an active role in science exploration at home or at school.

It's a perspective on science that Lily shares.

"After taking many lecture-based science classes throughout my education," says Lily, "I've realized how disengaging it can be to simply listen to someone tell you the cool things about science. The thing I love about science is that it does have that 'wow' factor, and students, especially in elementary and middle school, should have the opportunity to experience science in their own way! Doing a hands-on experiment may just be what it takes to ignite that spark between a student and a love for science."

Not only did they enjoy the chemistry experiment, but the fifth and sixth grade students Lily worked with were excited to go home and share the experiment with friends and family. In re-telling or re-creating the experiment at home, they continue to process and absorb what they learned, articulate it, and pass on the fun.

In the classroom, Lily spent time talking with students about science careers, showed them how the Topic Selection Wizard works, and looked at sample Project Ideas that came up as "recommendations" for an individual student.

"When I discovered the Topic Selection Wizard on the website, I knew I needed to share it with the students," says Lily. "I wish I had had this resource when I was doing my elementary and middle school science experiments and even when I was first looking into a science career!"

A popular tool on the Science Buddies website, the Topic Selection Wizard helps match students with science projects in which they might be especially interested—based on their responses to a simple questionnaire. Many times, students uncover a perfect project using the Topic Selection Wizard that they might not have discovered by just browsing the directory of projects.

"The school I visited does have a wonderful science fair every year," says Lily, "and scrolling through the recommended projects, I know there were many experiments that caught the students' eyes."

For Lily, time spent in the classroom helping connect kids with the "magic" and wonder of science is time well spent. Lily says she has always been interested in science. Even as a kid, she says she enjoyed both doctor and dentists appointments because the doctors would explain the science behind what they were doing.

Lily also fondly remembers her 4th grade science fair project. "It was called 'Which will float: the ball or the boat?'," says Lily. "I had shaped multicolored clay into both a round ball and a concave boat shape and placed them in a tub of water to see what they would do. I definitely wish I had had Science Buddies as a tool when I was in 4th grade, but I remember demonstrating the experiment to my friends and loving the fact that I had come up with the experiment all on my own!"

Her childhood fascination with science blossomed into career goals when she took AP biology in high school. Today, Lily is studying biology at DePaul while working to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education as part of her pageant platform.

"My pageant platform is called 'Women in Science: Exceeding the Boiling point,' and I chose this title because that is exactly what I want to encourage young women to do—to exceed the expectations placed on them in the sciences! Currently in the United States, only 25% of the available STEM careers are filled by women, and in a country where science and technology is valued so highly, that is truly a shame. I believe an interest in science starts at a young age, and young women need female role models to demonstrate to them that it's okay to love the sciences and that it is possible to become a confident, successful woman with a science career! I am so happy to have found Science Buddies, and I look forward to using it as a resource to encourage young women to pursue the sciences."

With up-and-coming scientists like Lily speaking out to girls and going into classrooms to show students that science is there, within reach, and full of magic and fun, there is hope for more and more students to embrace the sciences. Science Buddies is proud to support the process and to provide materials that help mentors, volunteers, parents, and teachers bring science to life for students—just like Lily did for students in Green Bay.

Above: Getting hands-on with a science activity like Make a Milk Rainbow helps bring science to life for students.


See our overview of the new Science Buddies Science Activities area.

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Science Buddies has added a new "activities" section to its award-winning science education website. The new science activities complement the existing library of science fair project ideas but bridge the gap between science "assignment" or "independent project" and doing science just for fun at home or in the classroom. These new activities appear just as summer break begins for many students, making the timing perfect for families looking to keep kids engaged with science all summer long.

New Science Activities at Science Buddies / hands-on science for the whole family

Science Buddies is excited to announce a brand new section of the website devoted to hands-on science activities. With a focus on short-term, family-friendly science and engineering experiments, these activities bring fresh new flavor and simplicity to Science Buddies and help families more easily make science a part of their time together at home.

In-depth Science Buddies Project Ideas for science fair projects and school assignments have been a key part of Science Buddies since the organization was founded in 2001. With a bit of ingenuity and reading between the lines, parents can adapt many of the more than 1,200 Science Buddies Project Ideas for home use, but the new dedicated science activities area makes it even easier to plan and lead a fun and engaging science experience at home.

The new activities help guide hands-on science exploration by providing simplified step-by-step procedures, key questions to think about or important observations to make, and information about what families can expect to see happen and why. In addition to a materials list, overview, and guided steps of the experiment, each activity includes explanatory information to help contextualize the activity and the science behind it, as well helpful links to relevant careers that help students make the connection between cool science and possible future career paths.

The science activities area is broken down into categories designed to help guide families in choosing a science activity to explore: All About Me; Build it Better; Crafting and DIY; Kitchen Creations; The Natural World; Outdoor Fun; Try It Out; and Whiz, Bang, Boom. As the section titles indicate, the new science activities area aims to help kids and families uncover and explore the science in everyday activities. Science really is everywhere, even in fun activities like throwing Frisbee at the park and making ice cream!

According to Sandra Slutz, Lead Staff Scientist at Science Buddies, "Most of the Science Buddies staff are parents. We understand the realities of balancing family time commitments, fun, and learning. So during the development of these activities, we continuously went back to three questions: Is it fun? Is it easy to do at home? Will kids learn something neat about science or engineering? I think we've succeeded in striking that balance across all 40 of these new activities. We hope our users will enjoy these activities as much as we have with our own children!"


Science Anytime

In the new Activities area, you will find great hands-on science ideas like these:

  • Theme Park Science with Jell-O® Loop-De-Loops: what do you get when you fill cups with Jell-O, put a marble in each one, and sling them around your head like a lasso using a homemade centripetal force generator cup? Answer: a cool look at centripetal force and Newton's Laws of Motion!
  • Make an Alka-Seltzer Powered Lava Lamp: can you simulate the behavior of a retro lava lamp using empty bottles, vegetable oil, food coloring, water, and Alka-Seltzer®? This no-power lamp won't give you any light, but it may produce lots of oohs and aahs as you watch the groovy movement of the bubbles and explore the chemical reaction that happens when Alka-Seltzer combines with water.
  • Build a Gumdrop Geodesic Dome: with gummy candies and toothpicks, you can build a simple geodesic dome that lets you explore how the dome is made out of a series of interconnected triangles—and how the dome shape can support a surprising amount of weight!
  • Make Your Own Marshmallows: with sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, you can make homemade marshmallows. How you vary the ration of sugar to corn syrup will make a difference in the texture and taste of the marshmallows though, so be prepared to taste test!
  • How Much Mass Can An Aluminum Foil Boat Float?: that heavy boats made of steel float in water can seem mind boggling. Shaping boats from aluminum foil lets kids see how the size and shape of a boat relates to how much weight it can hold and still float on water.
  • Color-changing Cabbage Chemistry: what can you learn about acids, bases, and the pH scale from boiled cabbage juice? This project may be smelly, but when you add lemon juice or vinegar to cabbage juice, you will see the purple color of the cabbage juice change. As you experiment with combining different foods or solutions to cabbage juice, you will be exploring the pH of those foods—and seeing the pH register in front of you by the color the juice turns!



Support for development of the new Science Activities area at Science Buddies was made possible by Motorola Solutions Foundation.

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