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Creative Circuits with Copper Tape

With paper, markers, LEDs, and copper tape, kids can get a hands-on introduction to electronics and circuits and turn their own drawings and creative projects into ones that light up!

Paper circuits family science project - electronics activity with copper tape to make a creative light-up scene Paper circuits family science project - electronics activity with copper tape to make a creative light-up scene

The intersection between art and science is one that holds particular interest for me, and I very much appreciate when my kids have the opportunity to do projects that support their creativity as well as let them get hands-on with science, technology, engineering, and math. These combo art and science projects are sometimes referred to as STEAM, and especially for hands-on STEM activities at home, adding in the "art" component can be especially fun.

A new "paper circuits" activity at Science Buddies is a wonderful example of a hands-on learning activity that lets kids blend creativity and basic electronics to create something that is immediately rewarding—it lights up! That you can configure the end project to light up when a button is pressed (completing the circuit) makes the activity even more fun because the student controls the circuit and the effect. It doesn't stay lit up on its own unless you want it to (if you paperclip the circuit closed, for example). Instead, in a very simple paper circuit, the light(s) may go on and off with something that resembles the press of a button when you close the circuit. This puts the student in direct control in ways that are empowering, exciting, and gratifying.

When it works, you know it!

Lighting Up a Paper City

We did several paper circuit activities at home. The whimsical play scene shown above was initially drawn by one student as a simple cityscape with a roadway for a tiny toy car. After the circuitry was in place, my younger student had a surprisingly good time gathering up small figurines from around the house and putting them into the playscape for our photos. (Your collection of LEGO mini figurines would be great in this context!) Ultimately, by pressing the battery in the corner into place, they can effortlessly transform the city scene from day to night. If we had carried the project even further, we could have set up a more sophisticated press button "light it up" mechanism that extended off the edge of the paper.

Our roadway experiment turned out very cool. But not all of our attempts were immediately successful. Even the roadway took some additional tinkering, in the end, to get all the LEDs to light at once.

Paper Circuits Tips for Success

Based on our experience with paper circuits, my best advice is to not get too ambitious or too complicated to start. Especially with younger students or students with little prior experience with circuits, you want your students to really see and understand how the copper tape circuit works. There are two different paths of copper tape, and they do not touch. Why? The paths each lead to one side of the battery. Why? The tape needs to be bent back (or miter folded) if you make a "turn" with your path. Why? It matters which leg of the LED touches which path of the copper tape. Why? What kinds of problems might cause one LED to light up but not all of them?

Start simple. One or two lights is sufficient for an introductory project and will give students an understanding of the process and circuitry as well as lead to a positive experience. Similarly, start with a single, flat (not folded like a greeting card) piece of paper. After a successful start with a relatively simple design, adding complexity in the form of more LEDs, more complicated circuit traces, additional triggers that can be used to connect the circuit, or 3D creations can be a lot of fun for additional challenge and next steps.

My second user tip for working with paper circuits with your kids at home involves putting sufficient pressure on the tape that holds your LED legs in place. If you find that your LEDs don't light up when the circuit is connected unless you specifically press down near the LEDs, you may need to turn your paper over and really firmly press tape in place around each leg to ensure the leads are making good contact. With one of our projects, we had such a difficult time getting all our LEDs to light up at once, despite really pressing the tape tightly in place around each leg, that we ended up adding another layer of electrical tape across the legs on the back of the art to really lock things in place.

Keep in mind, as with all electronics or robotics activities you might try with your kids, you may find that things don't work the first time or right away. Be prepared to ask troubleshooting questions with your kids, to try again, and to keep working together to figure things out. With paper circuits, there are some immediate questions you can ask when something isn't working. Is the conductive side of the copper tape touching at all folds and where it connects to the battery? Are the legs of each LED taped in the right orientation for the positive and negative paths of the circuit? Does the battery work?

Tinkering with the project at hand is often part of the process with family electronics—and part of the learning experience.

Electronics for Creative Kids

In concept, paper circuits fall in line with other introductory electronics projects like working with conductive dough (Squishy Circuits) or working with wearable electronics and sewn circuits. Paper circuits may be an even easier way to get started because in the simplest examples, everything is flat. The "trace" you create using copper tape to lead to the positive and negative terminals of a coin cell battery are easy to understand and typically easy to keep separate. This makes adding a light-up effect to a drawing or greeting card a relatively straightforward process.

To get started with paper circuits, see the new Make a Paper Circuit family science activity from the Science Activities for All Ages area. If your kids get hooked on this concept, and you want to explore other introductory electronics, see the following:

We would love to see what you and your students create!

Development of this activity was supported, in part, by KLA-Tencor, a proud sponsor of Science Buddies.



What Shape is a Hard-boiled Egg?

Hard-boiling and dyeing eggs is a Spring tradition in many households. This year, give your hard-boiled eggs a twist and turn ordinary ovoid hard-boiled eggs into fun shapes! The trick to the transformation is understanding the science behind the process of hard-boiling.

Egg Mold Shapes Hard-boiled Family Science activity

Raw eggs are oval in shape. Hard-boiled eggs are made from raw eggs. Therefore hard-boiled eggs must be oval in shape, right? Your basic logic primer might suggest this syllogism is true, but a fun new science activity from Science Buddies lets families experiment with molding hard-boiled eggs into different shapes!

Once the hard-boiling process is done, many recipes for perfect hard-boiled eggs instruct you to immediately transfer the eggs to an ice bath. This can help stop the process so that the eggs stay beautifully yellow inside (rather than turning a more sickly green, a shade that also happens if you boil them too long).

As this new family science activity explains, if you remove the freshly hard-boiled (still very hot) egg from its shell and stuff it into a mold (like a box made from a milk carton), the egg will take on the new shape as it cools—and stay in that shape once you remove the cooled egg from the mold.

Egg Mold Shapes Hard-boiled Family Science activity

Sounds fun, right? Hard-boiled egg rockets (think cylinders and triangles), robots (stack those cubes), or whimsical animals (combine shapes) are just a scientific step away with this hands-on family friendly kitchen science activity.

You can find directions for this exploration here at Science Buddies in the Science Activities for All Ages! area or at Scientific American:

If you try this family science activity at home, we would love to see what shapes you make with hard-boiled eggs this year!

Plating (Or Boxing) and Presentation

In the food industry, it is often said that presentation makes a big difference in how people perceive the food they eat. The same meal presented (or "plated") two different ways can strike people very differently.

Egg Mold Shapes Hard-boiled Family Science activityEven at home, you can see the idea that "presentation" matters play out in the preparation of school lunches. If you or your kids have ever spotted someone at school with a Bento-box style lunch, you may have seen foods cleverly cut, styled, and arranged into fun shapes or characters that turn everyday lunch materials into something creative, artistic, or unexpected. (Unfamiliar with Bento lunches beyond the idea of a Bento "box" container? Check this collection of Bento box lunch images for an inspiring glimpse of what is possible.)

While we can't guarantee this science activity will singlehandedly help transform your lunch into cute pandas, Totoros, rabbits, or a Hello Kitty character, you can use molded hard-boiled eggs as a way to add more creativity and whimsy to your food presentation (or lunchbox packing)!

Students interested in the idea of food presentation may also be interested in the Perfect Plating: Which Food Presentation Technique is Best? * abbreviated project idea.

Fun with Eggs

For other experiments and family science activities that involve eggs (egg dyeing, egg boiling, egg launching), see this roundup: Family Egg Science. You (and your kids) won't want to miss the fun Ping Pong Catapult launching adaptation of the Bombs Away! project!



Soda pop recipe / Hand-on STEM experiment

Making your own carbonated beverage can be a lot of fun. How much fizz do you like? What flavor? How sweet? The process of carbonating water and serving up a custom beverage is easier than ever before thanks to commonly available household devices like Sodastream®. But a pressurized approach to creating a carbonated beverage is not the only way to prepare a refreshing soda-style drink.

With a few simple ingredients, students can experiment with mixing up their own soda-style beverages at home using sodium bicarbonate and citric acid mixed with water. Experimenting with the quantity and ratio of these ingredients lets students observe the chemical reaction that occurs. Taste testing the beverage that results from different ratios of the ingredients makes the whole process even more fun. Mix in a sweetener or natural flavor (like lemon juice), and see if you can find the perfect balance of ingredients for your taste buds, not too fizzy, not too gritty, not too sweet. Can you find the "just right" combination? Does everyone in your house agree? Find out with this easy kitchen chemistry family science experiment.

You and your kids can explore this hands-on science activity using either the full project directions from Science Buddies or the shorter activity version:

For some non-edible fizzy science fun, try the Making Homemade Bath Bombs family science activity!

Note: The food coloring is just for fun. For the purists out there, no color is necessary!



Stopping the course of an antibiotic early is one way that bacteria develop greater resistance to available medicines. A new classroom activity, sponsored by Cubist Pharmaceuticals, helps students see how populations of bacteria respond to antibiotics. Using a colorful dice game, students roll the dice to see how many bacteria respond to treatment each day. How much harder is it to kill off a superbug? At the end of the game, the students can tell by looking at the dice that remain!

Superbugs dice activity for class exploration

When a doctor prescribes an antibiotic, she probably does so with the warning that you need to make sure you take all of it&emdash;even if you start feeling better before you finish the full course of medicine. When you pick up your prescription at the pharmacy, the pharmacist might pass on the same warning—be sure and take all of the pills. When you get home, you might find that these instructions are even marked on the bottle—you need to take the pills until they are gone. Why all the warnings? Is it overkill?

What happens if you chuck the bottle of pills as soon as you are feeling better and get back into your regular routine? You may contribute to the development of even more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that's what!

The prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, is a growing problem. Millions of people are infected each year with strains of bacteria that have adapted to survive the antibiotics people take. How did the bacteria get so smart? How did they morph into superbugs? How are these antibiotic-resistant bacteria flourishing?

Stopping a course of antibiotics before you finish it is one way that antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue to thrive and evolve.

Feeling Better on Day Three

The bacteria (or "bugs") that made you sick enough to seek medical attention and a prescription is one that, hopefully, the antibiotic prescribed will kill, but when you get sick, there may be millions of bacteria in your body, some of which have genetically mutated enough to be harder to kill with existing drugs. The antibiotic prescribed isn't a wonder pill. It doesn't kill all bacteria with the first dose. It doesn't necessarily kill all bacteria with the second dose. Depending on how resistant the bacteria are to the drug, some of the bacteria may be really hard to get rid of. Some may not even die off after you finish taking the medicine.

If killing bacteria is difficulty, what happens if you stop taking the pill after 5 days when 7 was prescribed)? What happens if you stop taking a 7-day antibiotic after day 3?

A new classroom activity, sponsored by Cubist Pharmaceuticals, helps students visualize how this process works by making and using a game-like model that demonstrates how a course of antibiotics affects a bacterial illness over time.

With dice of different colors representing bacteria with different levels of antibiotic resistance, students can "roll the dice" and watch to see how many bacteria are killed off each day while a patient takes a prescribed antibiotic. The activity, suitable for classroom groups or individual exploration, lets kids get hands on with superbugs in a safe and engaging way.

Making Health Connections

Pretty quickly, students will be able to see how difficult it is to kill off a superbug. But even the less resistant strains of the bacteria won't all disappear right away. Helping students visually grasp the fact that bacteria may still be lingering even though the person feels better helps increase awareness of the importance of taking all of a medication and highlights the risk superbugs pose to our health.

How many superbug dice survive the full antibiotics course in the activity? What does this mean for patient health? How many less resistant bacteria survive?

One patient stopping a course of antibiotics early may not seem like a big deal, but multiply this by hundreds of thousands of patients, and students can quickly see that the dice (or bacteria) that survive and become more and more resistant may reach frightening proportions.

Group-based STEM Activity

The Stopping "Superbugs" activity has been specially developed as an engaging in-class activity that can be done in small groups. You will need a large number of colored dice, but with materials in hand, the activity is easy to set up. Doing this important human biology experiment takes students about a half hour. Both educator and student guides are available.

Support for this classroom activity was provided by Cubist Pharmaceuticals.
To learn more about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, visit the Superbugs website.



Candy Corn Geodesic Dome

A classic science (and geometry) project takes on Halloween tones with candy corn-colored candies, a few ordinary toothpicks, and a bunch of triangles.

Gumdrop geodesic dome halloween science activity

We are big fans in my house of the geodesic dome. We initially tried a bigger-than-expected version made from straws a few years ago. We had a great time putting it together—but it would not fit through the front door!

Making a small-scale geodesic dome from gummy candies is a much easier and faster way to introduce kids to the structure and shape of a geodesic dome. The Build a Gumdrop Geodesic Dome activity in the Science Activities for All Ages! area contains the simple directions you need to build your own.

With a tub of candy corn-shaped gum drops, my kids each built a geodesic dome over the weekend. The project doesn't take long, and the steps are well-described and illustrated in the activity. The gum drop and toothpick approach is also very forgiving. Precision in placing the toothpicks and candies isn't required to succeed, which makes the building accessible to a wide range of kids and students.

Once their domes were finished, my kids each built a small box (cube) using the same approach. The objective was to see how the strength of each shape compares. Once the cubes were constructed, they tried setting a variety of objects on each shape to see what would happen and how each would hold up under varying amounts of weight.

Finished with our science activity, one of my kids went on to expand from the cube shape, turning the initial base structure into the foundation for a more freeform sculptural piece. From science to food art!

I don't know if this will get us out of carving pumpkins, but it certainly was a lot less messy!

Support for the Science Activities for All Ages! area at Science Buddies was provided, in part, by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.



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.



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:



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:



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.



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!



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!



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.



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!



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.



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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