Science is always fun, but during the summer I like to bring out some of my coolest science demonstrations and experiments. I decided to kick off our summer science in July with one of my all-time favorite programs: “candy science.”
Part of my inspiration for this program has been two terrific experiments books by Loralee Leavitt: Candy Experiments 1, and Candy Experiments 2. The majority of my experiments came from the first book, but I was able to put some fun twists on things thanks to suggestions from her newest book. Her second book would be a great take-home for any budding scientist looking for some fun science fair project ideas (or for some fun science exploration at home) since many of the projects span a longer time frame that I am able to accommodate during my one-hour program time. As a reminder to my home readers, there is also a fun companion web site with some online experiment instructions. And as always, one of my favorite science fellas – Steve Spangler – provided some fun experiment suggestions as well…
We had an ambitious list of experiments that I wanted to do for the day, so I didn’t even bother creating a presentation with youtube videos and the like (which I usually do). Instead, we jumped right into the experiments themselves. WARNING: SOME PEOPLE HAVE ALLERGIES TO NUTS, AND MANY CANDIES CAN BE LITERALLY LIFE-THREATENING BECAUSE THEY EITHER CONTAIN NUTS OR POSSIBLY COME IN CONTACT WITH NUTS DURING PRODUCTION IN FACTORIES. BE SURE TO READ CANDY PACKAGES CAREFULLY – AND WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL THE MANUFACTURER! None of my scientists that day noted allergies to nuts and/or other foods, but I wanted them to be aware of the need for caution when working with food regardless.
The experiments we focused on for the day were:
- “Skin the Candy” using candy corn
- “Color Mixing” using gobstoppers and starlight mints
- “Candy Chromatography” using black jelly beans (via the Steve Spangler web site)
- “Floating Letters” using M&Ms and Skittles (there are also great details about this experiment on Steve Spangler’s web site)
- “Snap, Crackle, Pop Rocks” using Pop Rocks
- “Wormy Cotton Candy”
- “Defying Gravity with Slime” using cotton candy
- “The Cotton Candy Sponge”
- “Squash the Unsinkable” using 3 Musketeers mini bars
- “Unsticky It” using large marshmallows
“SKIN THE CANDY”
- Candy corn (a few per scientist)
- Small, clear cups (I used the Diamond mini-cups that I found at Wal-mart)
- Some warm or room-temperature water to pour into the clear cup
This is a very simple demonstration, but it’s good to start this one early in the hour because it will need to sit for a while before results appear. Very simply, you pour some room temperature water (or warm water, if you have it) into your small mini-cup, and then drop in 1-2 candy corns. [You don’t want to put too many candies in the water, or it will muddy the results and make them less visible.] After soaking for a while, our scientists noticed that much like a snake sheds its skin, a thin “skin” was being shed from each candy corn. This demonstration is a great way to better understand what you eat. The “skin” that comes off the candy is actually a kind of confectioner’s glaze, or “shellac,” that is often found on candies with a shiny or smooth surface.
- Gobstoppers candies, several colors per scientist (You can order these from Amazon if necessary, but I got lucky and found some at the Dollar Store!)
- Starlight mint candies, 1 per scientist (you can use red or green – or both – it doesn’t matter)
- Plates (must be able to hold liquid)
- Some water (I distribute recycled bottles filled with water amongst my tables for the kids to use throughout the program)
NOTE: Starlight Mints are NOT all safe for kids with nut allergies – some are produced in a factory where they can come into contact with nuts!
This “color mixing” experiment produces a really cool effect. Gobstopper candies are created with many different colored layers. As you suck on the candy, each layer dissolves to reveal a different colored layer underneath. Manufacturers need to make the sugar candy coatings of various colors in a unique way to ensure that the colors don’t mix during production and stay separate.
We tested this by placing gobstoppers of different colors onto a small paper plate with a layer of water in it (you don’t have to completely cover the candies – you just need them to be sitting in an even layer of water). You want the gobstoppers close but not touching – about 1-2 inches apart. The color coatings quickly dissolve, but it’s like there’s an invisible wall between the colors. The red doesn’t mix with the purple, the green doesn’t mix with the yellow, etc. At least for a time, all of the colors stay completely separated!
Using the same plate, my scientists then put a starlight mint into the same plate/water. When the Starlight mint is placed in the water, the candy actually dissolves in stripes! The red and white stripes (or green and white stripes) stay separated for a time due to the variance in the sugar content in the surrounding water as it dissolves.
Eventually, all colors will indeed blend together, but not before you enjoy some really nifty effects!
- Black jelly beans (1 for each scientist; if you think of it, buy a bag of the all-black jelly beans during the Easter season – I had to buy many bags of mixed colors off-season and pluck out the black beans)
- Filter paper or coffee filters (1 for each scientist) – I used standard coffee filters from the supermarket
- Pipettes (I LOVE pipettes! You can use them for so many things; I buy them in bulk from Amazon)
Chromatography is a term used to describe the separation of mixtures, usually with the help of a fluid. And that’s just what we wanted to do. The purpose of this experiment was to discover what different colors are used to make the black coating for black jelly beans. Each scientist placed their black jelly bean on their coffee filter, and then added water using their pipettes (eyedroppers). Then you just have to sit back and wait for 10-15 min. or so as the water starts to dissolve and separate the black candy coating. You can really see the colors on the filter paper best when the paper actually dries, so I sent all of my scientists home with their papers. But even before it dried, our scientists were seeing that blue, green, pink and purple were all colors that helped to make our jelly beans black. As noted on Steve Spangler’s site:
Although the black jellybean appears to be black, the dyes that comprise the color are actually many. You can see the different dyes as they move up the filter paper. These dyes separate from each other because some dyes are more attracted to the paper while others are more soluble in water. These differences result in varying distances from the jellybean.
- Snack sized packs of M&Ms and Skittles (or you can just make sure that you portion the candy in a way that each scientists gets several of each)
- Small, clear cups (I used the Diamond mini-cups that I found at Wal-mart)
- Some water
NOTE: M&Ms are NOT safe for some kids with nut allergies, but Skittles ARE.
Our scientists dropped some Skittles and M&Ms in a small cup filled with room temperature water, letter-side up. [As with “Skin the Candy,” you want to be sure that you don’t add too many candies to the small cup at one time.] Over the course of 5-10 minutes, as the colored candy coatings started to dissolve in the water, the letters on the candies (either “s” or “m”) slowly separated from the candies and floated to the surface of the water! Why does this happen? The candy makers actually use an ink that is NOT soluble in water to write the letters on the candy; in other words, the letters don’t dissolve in the water – they stay intact!
SNAP, CRACKLE, POP ROCKS
Materials for experiment:
- 1 pack of Pop Rocks for each scientist
- 1 cup with water
I always start this one by asking the scientists how many of them are familiar with Pop Rocks…there are always at least a handful of scientists that have never “experienced” them before. So before we do anything else, I have everyone sample some of the Pop Rocks by pouring some into their mouths and then describing what they are feeling/hearing. I then have all of the scientists pour some Pop Rocks into a cup of room-temperature water. We could hear the sound of the Pop Rocks popping all around the room! As the Pop Rocks dissolved in the water, they also bounced up and down in the cups. Pop Rocks have something in common with soda: carbon dioxide. Just as manufacturers compress carbon dioxide and pump it into soda to give us the fun fizz and bubbles, they also compress and pump carbon dioxide into the candy that becomes Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks candies contain many tiny pockets of carbon dioxide. As they dissolve on your tongue (or in a glass of water), those tiny pockets of gas are released with a small popping sensation (or sound).
WORMY COTTON CANDY + DEFYING GRAVITY WITH SLIME + THE COTTON CANDY SPONGE
- (or the like), 1 generous portion per scientist (this can be hard to find in stores, though I have seen some at the Dollar Store near me and at some supermarkets that have a novelty candy area).
- Plates (I used plastic plates since I had them in stock – you will be adding water to the plate so make sure it is sturdy/coated)
- Small plastic cups with water in them
- Small plastic cups with vegetable oil in them (there should be a couple of inches of oil in the cup)
- Pipettes (see, I use them constantly! 🙂 )
IMPORTANT NOTE: You DO NOT want to get the cotton candy wet before you’re ready for certain demonstrations, so be sure to have the scientists clean up their work spaces before you begin – also have them verify that their plates are dry.
My first instruction was for each scientist to separate their cotton candy into four equal parts. Why four parts, you ask, if there are only three demonstrations? Well, my scientists are always obsessed with the idea of being able to take some cotton candy home with them…for eating. This ensures that they have a little chunk to take home with them 🙂
Cotton Candy Part 1: “Wormy Cotton Candy”
I asked the scientists to put one piece of their cotton candy down on a DRY plate (it is VERY important that the plate is dry since cotton candy reacts dramatically to water). Using a pipette, each scientist then slowly dropped water onto the cotton candy…drop by drop. The result is amazing! Wherever the water touches, it completely dissolves the fluffy cotton candy into a very small bit of gooey sugar water. By adding the water drop by drop with the pipette, each scientist can really see how this happens. It looks the way a piece of wood might if a worm was tunneling through! Some of my scientists carefully added water in a specific way so they could create their very own cotton candy sculptures. Others saw what was happening and squeezed a lot of water onto the cotton candy in one go so they could confirm how water really does dissolve it into almost nothing.
Cotton Candy Part 2: “Defying Gravity with Slime”
I now asked the scientists to take a fresh piece of the cotton candy and dip the bottom tip in the small cup with fresh water in it. And behold! The water travels lightning quick UP the cotton candy until all of the cotton candy dissolves into a dripping, sugary goo. How did this happen? Well, the sugar crystals and fibers of the cotton candy are so tightly woven that they create a stronger attraction for water molecules than even the downward pull of the force of gravity! Thus, the water quickly travels UP the cotton candy, dissolving the delicate fibers into goo almost instantly. [The same effect can be seen when you touch a paper towel to water.]
Cotton Candy Part 3: “The Cotton Candy Sponge”
As far as I’m concerned, this experiment was the coolest – and yuckiest – one in the bunch. We know that cotton candy dissolves very quickly in water, but what happens when you dunk it into VEGETABLE OIL? For this final experiment, my scientists took the final piece of cotton candy and dunked it into the cup that had a few inches of vegetable oil in it. The result? The cotton candy does not dissolve! It actually absorbs the oil, turning kind of translucent and gelatinous-looking in the process. Yuck! Some of my scientists wanted to see what would happen if they took the gooey blob of cotton candy/vegetable oil and now dunked it in the cup with the water. What they discovered is that the parts of the cotton candy that had not fully absorbed the oil now dissolved in the water, but the majority of the cotton candy floated rather sludge-like in the water cup! The scientists that dunked the whole piece of cotton candy into the oil found that they could somewhat mold the cotton candy into shapes, much like you can do with a hunk of Playdough.
SQUASH THE UNSINKABLE
- Mini 3 Musketeers bars (2 for each scientist)
- Tall, clear plastic cups filled with water
NOTE: 3 Musketeers are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies.
First, our scientists dropped a mini 3 Musketeers bar directly into a cup of water. What happened? It floated! I then had them smash a second 3 Musketeers bar so that it was super flat, and then drop it into the same cup of water. [I originally told them to pound it flat, but the little candy bar was resistant to pounding, so I amended my instructions and told them to squeeze it flat using their fingers.] Did it also float? NO. 3 Musketeers bars are made with a lot of air – that’s why the nougat center is so light and fluffy. When you flatten out the candy bar, you push out a lot of the air that keeps it floating (or buoyant).
- 1 bag of campfire sized marshmallows (enough for 1 marshmallow per scientist)
- A cup with some water in it (I just had the scientists use some water from the 3 Musketeers cup from the previous experiment)
I always save this final experiment for the end because it is super simple, super quick, and something that is easy to take off of the roster for the day if time runs short. I had the scientists rip a large marshmallow in half and describe the texture of the marshmallow in its center. “Very sticky” is how almost everyone described it. I had the scientists touch the sticky edge of a marshmallow center to the water in their cups and then describe the texture to me again. Many said it became “slimy” or “smooth.” The explanation? When marshmallows are made, the corn syrup molecules do not form complete crystals. When you first pull the marshmallow apart, the stickiness is the result of those molecules looking for ways to connect with other molecules. When you dip the sticky edge in water, the corn syrup molecules form bonds with the water molecules and thus no longer are clinging to your finger looking to create similar bonds!
When all was finished, my scientists left the room buzzing about the experiments…and eager to sample whatever candy they had managed to set aside during the course of the program [HINT: I always make sure I buy enough candy so the scientists can go home with a baggie of “extras” 🙂 ]