Thursday, June 30, 2011

DIY Lava Lamps

Oil, water, food coloring, and alka seltzer: Lava Lamps - Summer Fun -

Looks like a great idea to add to the science birthday party list.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

LDRB Party Report

Time flies, it has already been a week since the party.  Seemed to be quite a success, I think the birthday girl and her friends enjoyed it.  Water bottle rockets, Estes rockets, and a trebuchet throwing water balloons.  Quite an eclectic collection of activities.  It was a hot and humid day, so I think any water activities were well received.

Some assembly required prior to beginning the seige
First they assembled some Art Applwhite qbit and pyramid rockets.  As they were doing this I was trying to set up the Estes launch pad, however my ancient launch controller wouldn't work.  While I have a nifty Pratt Hobbies Go-box controller I purchased from Apogee I didn't have a working battery pack to hook it up to, and the car was parked in the lot too far away to reach.  Fortunately a friend showed up to watch the party and I put him to work fixing the controller (thanks, Brett).

I had some of the girls assemble the trebuchet.  I think they enjoyed hitting things with the rubber mallet the most.

After some practice they were able to get some good distance out of the water balloons with the trebuchet.  I had initially tried some small balloons (sold as "water bombs"), but they were too fragile.  I used some full size balloons filled to the size of a softball with water.


Target's Eye View
And yes, we all spent some time picking up balloon and string pieces from the field.

The water bottle rockets were a big hit, particularly the overhead launcher.  Here are some pics.
Party Favors!
Custom design takes flight
Splash up?
Once we got the Estes launch controller working we were able to do a few launches.

The Art Applewhite rockets flew surprisingly fast and high (A10-3T motor)!  The girls didn't do a great job gluing the tops (as the instructions stated), so the parachute charge blew through the top.  However, they had a great time with the first flight.  I will definitely use these again.
Launching a qBit
We also launched the Estes Oracle, and older model rocket that has a video camera in the nose.  Launched these on C motor.

Great shot of the Estes Oracle on launch

We launched Big Bertha and the BLU using B6-4 motors.  Both were good launches.  The kids enjoyed trying to catch the bomblets that came out of the BLU.

While I was picking up the motors from the hobby shop I impulse purchased an Estes ready-to-fly kit, the "Summit".   The rocket is surprisingly tall, given it comes in a box ready-to-fly.  The body is two equal length tubes, and it flew nicely.  If I had been more on top of things we would have set up to measure height of launch, but things were moving too quick for me to keep up.

Overall I received good reviews from the party.  A few technical glitches we were able to overcome.  The birthday girl seemed to enjoy herself, which is what it was all about, right? (no, not about me at all...)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Launch Day!

Well, almost everything is done, and then some.  It is time to load the car up with all of the stuff.  I double-checked with the birthday girl last night, asking if she thinks I have gone overboard; fortunately she told me it was fine, then we started listening to some geek rock to make a playlist.  Thinking of some Consortium of Genius, Kirby Krakle, and some select nerdcore.  Trying to keep the explicit lyrics to a minimum; while they are 13 year olds I don't want to get into trouble (for that...).

If all goes well I'll post pics and hopefully some video.  If not, then I'll let you know which hospital to find me in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This party needs to happen soon...

So, the more time I have the more I add to this party.  I may be able to get everything done by then.

The 10 launch pads are now cemented together.  Had some interesting times getting the tire stem valves in place.    Turns out the 2 inch long valves are actually narrower than the 1 inch valves.  So I had to drill a bigger hole for the shorter valves, which turned out to be too big for the valve to fit in by friction.  A little super glue solved that problem, should keep the valve against the end-cap until pressure builds to hold it there.
1-inch tire stem valve and end cap

Tire stem valve has a block on the end, so it won't fit into this end cap

Customizing the valve stem

This past weekend we had to go to the hardware store and pick up a couple connectors that we still needed.  While we were there I bought the parts to build a PVC trebuchet based on the design from John Park's episode on Make: Television.  Hope to use it to launch some water balloons across the field.

I also picked up some Estes rocket motors from the hobby shop today.  Hopefully I have enough time to prep for some of these to liven up the party.  Maybe the girls will enjoy building some saucer rockets using plans from Art Applewhite's site.  I'll also try to resurrect my old rockets from wherever they are buried in the garage.  I wonder if the Estes Oracle still works, that's the rocket with a video camera in the nose cone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Science Theme Birthday Party

So, I had another request today for details of the science experiment birthday party.

Some background: last year we put together a bunch of science experiments for kids to do for at my 10 year old daughter's party.  I traversed a lot of Internet searches to find some fun stuff that would engage the kids, be fun to do, and not have a high chance of actually harming anyone.  As usual there a plenty of sources for info, such as Steve Spangler, Science Bob, and of course the fountain fun from Eepybird.  I also found some help from Instructables and I am sure there are some other places I found.

After seeing how fun this party looked, my 12 year old daughter decided she wanted the same party, so we ended up doing one around lunch time and one in the afternoon.  That worked out well.  Then, when the twins saw how much fun everyone had, they wanted a science birthday party for their 7th birthday!

We used caution tape in place of streamers, and the party was in the driveway (don't do this inside).  The streamers were fastened to the table and the canopy with, of course, duct tape.

For party favors the kids too home their electromagnets, the Mentos/Diet Coke tube, bubble wands, and safety goggles.  I also put all of these instructions in a little booklet for them to take home.  Each booklet included a warning statement:
Remember, DON'T try these unless you have an adult's permission and supervision!
Take appropriate safety precautions, including goggles and gloves!

So, do any of this at your own risk.  Take this as an opportunity to practice and teach safety to the kids, while letting them have some fun.

Salt Trees

We did this first, then put off to the side for the rest of the party, that way the crystals had time to start forming.  The first year we did it I used ammonia, but left that off the second year (figuring that a younger crowd shouldn't use ammonia).  The crystals did not form without the ammonia.  Leave it in and have adults help do that part.


  • Piece of sponge or cardboard tube
  • Distilled water
  • Salt (iodine free pickling salt if available)
  • Laundry Bluing (find Mrs. Stewart's brand on-line.  I found it at Lehman's)
  • Ammonia (pure, not something mixed with cleaning)
  • Plastic cup and spoon
  • Plastic bowl
  • Liquid food coloring


  • Wear goggles and gloves and do this outside.  Ammonia puts out some fumes.
  • Put the piece of sponge or tube in the bowl
  • In the cup mix a couple spoons each of salt, ammonia, and bluing, add an equal amount of water
  • Pour the mixture over the sponge or the base of the tube, try to keep it off the sides of the bowl
  • Sprinkle 2 more spoonfuls of salt over the base
  • Add a few drops of food coloring in a couple spots
  • Let it sit, the crystals will grow as the liquid evaporates
  • Try adding small amounts of water at the bottom over the next few days



The kids were really into this, much more than I had thought they would be.


  • Approximately 4 feet of insulated wire (14 gauge, 12 is too hard to bend in a coil)
  • D-cell battery
  • Iron nail or rod (if using a nail you may want to grind the point down to dull, prior to the part)
  • Something small and metal, like a paper clip or safety pin
  • Some electrical tape


  • Strip the insulation (plastic wrapping) from the ends of the wire so about 1/4“ of bare wire is showing (you may want to do this as a pre-party preparation)
  • Wrap the wire around the rod or nail in a tight coil, so it looks like a spring with the metal in the middle
  • Touch ends of the wire to opposite ends of the battery
  • Touch one end of the metal rod to the small metal item, it should pick it up!
  • Remove the wires from the battery, the metal will lose its magnetic power
  • We then taped the battery to the rod/coil, and one end of the wire was taped to a batter terminal.  That way the kids only had to move one end of the wire to make it work


Not sure where I found this one, search around.

Air Cannon

I did the assembly of this prior to the party.  This came out at the end, when kids just wanted to goof around, since they had to take turns.


  • Medium sized plastic trash can (that can be cut up)
  • Old shower curtain (that can be cut up too)
  • Bungee cord that can go around the wide mouth of the trash can


  • Lay the shower curtain flat and trace the wide part of the trash can
  • Now draw a rough circle around that one, making the new circle about 6 inches bigger
  • Cut out the big circle from the shower curtain
  • On the bottom of the trash can cut a hole in the center, 6 to 8 inches in diameter
  • Set the shower curtain on the large open end of the trash can, and secure it with the bungee cord
  • Point the small end of the can at the target, then tap the center of the shower curtain; it should blow a puff of air strong enough to knock over the paper cup
  • We filled the can with smoke from a fog machine so we could see the air moving.  Blows smoke rings, how cool!



Iodine Clock

This one is probably the hardest of the bunch.  We had all kinds of interesting results, not all successful.  Again, the kids really got into this one.


  • Wear gloves and goggles and work outside – iodine will stain
  • 3 small clear plastic cups – label them A, B, and C with a marker
  • 1000mg Vitamin C tablet
  • 5 ml tincture of iodine (buy at a pharmacy - they limited how much we could buy at one time)
  • 15 ml hydrogen peroxide 3% (first aid supplies from the pharmacy)
  • 2.5 ml of liquid laundry starch (or ½ tsp of corn starch - we had better luck with corn starch)
  • Water


  • Wear gloves and goggles and work outside – iodine will stain
  • Mash up the vitamin c tablet (try putting it in a plastic bag and crushing with a spoon or rolling pin)
  • In cup A put the vitamin c and 60 ml warm water and stir
  • Pour 5 ml of liquid A into cup B
  • Add 60 ml of warm water and 5 ml of tincture of iodine to cup B
  • In cup C mix 10 ml of warm water, 15 ml of hydrogen peroxide, 2.5 ml of liquid starch
  • Pour all of cup B into cup C, then pour back to cup B, then back to cup C (to mix it up)
  • Set down cup C and watch.  Don't blink, you might miss it (may take a minute...)


Ziplock Pop


  • Take the ingredients outside – this should splash
  • 1 qt size zipper closed freezer bags(sandwich bags are too weak for this experiment)
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ of a tissue


  • Lay the tissue flat and pour the baking soda in the middle
  • Fold the tissue around the baking soda so it won't fall out
  • Add the water and vinegar to the bag
  • Drop the tissue with baking soda into the bag
  • Seal the zipper closure tightly and give the bag a few quick shakes
  • Put the bag down and have everyone step back to a safe distance


From the book The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments by Sean Connolly

Elephant Toothpaste

Wow, this was a major hit.  I had all of the kids prepare their mixtures, then dump the yeast in at the same time.  Foam covered the entire table.


  • Do this experiment outside where you can easily clean up the mess
  • Empty 16oz. Soda bottle
  • ½ cup hydrogen peroxide.  (The stuff used for first aid will work, but the higher the concentration the more reaction, get 20-volume (6%) from a beauty supply store)
  • A few squirts of dish detergent 
  • A few drops of food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water


  • Put on gloves and goggles, hydrogen peroxide can be dangerous
  • Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the bottle
  • Add the soap to the bottle
  • Add the food coloring to the bottle
  • Swirl the contents to mix
  • In the plastic cup mix the warm water and yeast, stir until the yeast is dissolved
  • Pour the yeast mixture into the bottle
  • If nothing happens right away, give the bottle another gentle swirl to mix


Soda Fountain

Another hit.  Most of the kids had seen the video, but never had a chance to actually try this.


  • Do this experiment outside – if all goes well it will be messy!
  • 2 liter bottle of diet cola (does not have to be Coke brand, get the cheapest diet soda you can find)
  • 4 or 5 Mentos brand mints
  • Mint dropping tube (ours are built from a bottle lid, PVC pipe, PVC cap, paper clip, string.  Check out this Instructable)


  • Remove the paperclip from the tube
  • Place mints into the tube
  • Re-insert the paperclip through the small holes, should hold the mints in the tube
  • Open the bottle of diet cola
  • Attach the tube to the top of the bottle, be careful the mints don't drop out!
  • Stand back and pull the string so the mints drop into the bottle


Giant Bubbles

I set this out after all the experiments were complete, and cake had been consumed.  They kept making bubbles until we ran out (impressive since I mixed about 4 gallons of bubble juice)


  • Container that has a large mouth and holds more than 1 gallon
  • 2/3 cup dish washing liquid (such as Joy) (actually, use more, I ended up using about 2 cups)
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of glycerin (get it from the pharmacy – or try using 2 teaspoons of sugar if you can't get glycerin)
  • Giant bubble wand (ours are made from 2 sticks with a loop of string duct taped to the ends.  Other folks have posted how to build these over on Instructables)


  • In the container gently mix the ingredients.  Don't stir too fast, bubble solution works best if it isn't foamy on top
  • Let the mix sit for a while, overnight if you can wait
  • Hold onto the ends of the sticks, dip the string into the solution
  • Raise the sticks and separate, waving through the air to make a bubble
  • Try to keep the solution from foaming too much while you blow bubbles


Good luck with your endeavors, leave a comment to let me know how it goes for you!  Go Science!