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Fun Holiday Experiments

Wow your party guests, make sure you have a white Christmas and experiment with some festive oobleck with these fun holiday experiments!


Relighting Candle  

Here’s a clever trick to wow your family round the dinner table between courses.

Blow out the candle, then hold a lit match in the smoke trail and watch the candle magically relight!  Is this some sort of Christmas magic?

Maybe...

What is happening though is that the smoke trail is actually wax vapor and the match simply relights the fuel giving the illusion of the flame jumping back down to the candle wick.

General equation for wax combustion:

 

Make Fake Snow (then make it erupt!)  

We can’t always rely on Mother Nature to provide the picture perfect white Christmas, so why not make your own fake snow.

Reagents & Equipment

1 lb of baking soda
Shaving cream (unscented)
A large mixing bowl
2 drops of peppermint extract (optional)
Glitter (optional)
Vinegar

 

Method

  1. Pour the baking soda into a large bowl
  2. Spray the shaving cream.  Start with a good handful, and add more if required
  3. Mix the baking soda and shaving cream to form the snow
  4. For extra fun, add some peppermint extract and glitter for sparkly scented snow

The snow will feel cold and is easily moldable into snowballs, snow men, or any other snow creations you wish to make.
For one more fun activity add some vinegar to your snow and watch it erupt!

General equation for the reaction of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid):


Candy Cane Oobleck  

Oobleck, the most fun solid liquid…wait a solid and a liquid at the same time?  Yes, this very fascinating substance is both a solid and a liquid at the same time, and is known as a non-Newtonian fluid. 

You can pick up non-Newtonian fluids like a solid, but then it begins to flow like a liquid. It will also take the shape of whatever container it is put into instead of remaining solid. 

Newton described how ‘normal’ liquids or fluids behave, observing that they have a constant viscosity (flow). This means that their flow behavior or viscosity only changes with changes in temperature or pressure. For example, water freezes and turns into a solid at 0 °C and turns into a gas at 100 °C. Within this temperature range, water behaves like a ‘normal’ liquid with constant viscosity.

 

Typically, liquids take on the shape of the container they are poured into. We call these ‘normal liquids’ Newtonian fluids. But some fluids don’t follow this rule. We call these ‘strange liquids’ non-Newtonian fluids.

Non-Newtonian fluids change their viscosity or flow behavior under stress. If you apply a force to such fluids (say you hit, shake, or jump on them), the sudden application of stress can cause them to get thicker and act like a solid, or in some cases it results in the opposite behavior and they may get runnier than they were before. Remove the stress (let them sit still or only move them slowly) and they will return to their earlier state.
Now for the fun part, make your own festive non-Newtonian fluid oobleck (named after a substance in the Dr. Seuss book Bartholomew and the Oobleck).

Reagents & Equipment

Cornstarch
Water
Peppermints
Baking sheet

Method

  1. Mix one cup of cornstarch and ½ a cup of water (a 2:1 ratio of cornstarch to water gives a good oobleck)
  2. Pour and spoon onto the baking sheet and add the peppermints
  3. Use tweezers, or your hands and play with the oobleck and peppermints
  4. Add anything else you wish to make your oobleck even more festive (e.g. glitter)

Have fun!

 
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Dr. Dawn Watson
 

This article was written by Dr. Dawn Watson.

Dawn received her PhD in synthetic inorganic chemistry from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The focus of her PhD thesis was the synthesis and application of soft scorpionate ligands. As well as synthetic skills, this work relied on the use of a wide variety of analytical techniques, such as, NMR, mass spectrometry (MS), Raman spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy (IR), UV-visible spectroscopy, electrochemistry, and thermogravimetric analysis.

Following her PhD she spent two years as a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University studying the reaction kinetics of small molecule oxidation by catalysts based on Cytochrome P450. In order to monitor these reactions stopped-flow kinetics, NMR, HPLC, GC-MS, and LC-MS techniques were utilized.

Prior to joining the Crawford Scientific and CHROMacademy technical team she worked for Gilson providing sales and support for the entire product range including, HPLC (both analytical and preparative), solid phase extraction, automated liquid handling, mass spec, pipettes, and laboratory consumables.

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