World's Fair


Last week, my daughter had her seventh birthday party, and it makes my heart swell to tell you that she wanted to have it at my lab this year.

So what to do? What to do? With 15 or so six/seven year olds in a full on laboratory settng. Well, thankfully, this is where ScienceBlogs rocks, since I had happened upon an awesome post by Janet over at Adventures in Science and Ethics that was all about the simple act of “just adding water” to see what happens.

The only difference here, of course, is that we got to do it at a real lab, so it was wonderful to see the kids get a real hearty dose of science culture as it were.

As well, just to make it a little more science-y, I presented the experiments as a mystery of sorts. One where my colleagues in the building inadvertantly switched some chemicals around, and it was the kids’ job to figure out which chemicals were which.

How would they do that? – well, just by adding water and noting what happens to the chemical. And what was doubly cool (at least, I thought this was cool), was that I presented the chemicals as being one of 5 possibilities:

Sodium Chloride (table salt)
Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda)
Collagen (gelatin)
Glutenin (Rice Flour)
Amylose (Corn Starch)

You’ll note that I took a full on chemical name for the principle component of said kitchen ingredient. This way, I think I was able to convince the kids that this was real high tech science all the way.

Anyway, it was great fun, and below is a copy of the slide show I used to show the kids what the chemicals are suppose to do (note the image of sodium bicarbonate is actually only carbonate, but I couldn’t find a good pic the night before). Also the picture of the Falcon tube at the end is just to show them how they can measure their water amounts.

(Click on the movie to move through slides)

That corn starch stunt is amazing. Score one for non-newtonian liquids, but what was even more awesome is that given the structure of things like amylose, it totally makes sense why it would behave like that.


  1. #1 themadlolscientist, FCD
    September 22, 2008

    S00per c00l!

  2. #2 Laura
    September 22, 2008

    That is so awesome. I bet they had a blast!

  3. #3 Timon
    September 22, 2008

    I love it Dave. Very cool.

  4. #4 Dave S.
    September 22, 2008

    My dad gave me math problems for my birthday. Oh, and a dissecting kit. He’s a great dad, but he never liked chemistry. You’ve got a pretty cool daughter, Dave.

  5. #5 fake plants
    September 22, 2008

    ohhhhh! I would have loved to do something like that for my birthday. Score for the most awesome birthday part ever! Great idea.

  6. #6 Madhu
    September 29, 2008

    Sounds really cool! My then 6-yr old daughter had an Evolution/Fossil themed birthday party several years ago. We got a selection of small fossils from a teaching supply place and the kids “dig” for them in sand – and the best part was that they got to take them home! Mom and daughter also baked a fossil layer cake with shells (chocolate) and worms (gummy) embedded among the layers. This all happened because we’d visited the Darwin exhibit at the AMNH some months earlier – and our kid’s been a Darwin-head ever since.

    A wet-lab birthday party sounds like a lot of fun. But, I wonder if you don’t have to worry about campus lab safety czars up there in Canada – is that so? I’m not sure my campus would be too happy to hear about something like this!

  7. #7 Mimi
    September 29, 2008

    this is fantastic! I am so jealous.

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