Ask A Washington DC Expert: 5 Fun & Easy Science Projects To Do At Home

March 25, 2016 8:00 AM

Life is science, and science is all around. For a young explorative mind, observing and experimenting with science opens many possibilities to learn and grow. Even better, you don’t need a lot of high-tech gadgets and equipment to learn about science or even craft your own experiments at home. Ryan Heitz of Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science has compiled a list of great at-home science experiment suggestions to get great minds working. All these experiments can be done in as little as 15 minutes or can be extended into an afternoon of exploration.
Ryan Heitz
Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science
12340 Pinecrest Road
Reston, VA 20191
(703) 860-0211
www.ideaventionsacademy.org

Ryan Heitz is the founder and head of Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science where he also serves as an instructor in computer science and math. A longtime enthusiast of science, Heitz’s career has spanned fields in environmental science, computer programming, Geographical Information Systems and education, as well as many unique areas of study and numerous environmental research projects. He established Ideaventions in Reston back in 2015 as a private school for gifted students in grades four through eight. With a mission to empower young minds to better understand and improve the world, scientific and mathematical studies fuel the curriculum and many hands-on experimental studies offered at the school. Starting in 2017, Ideaventions will expand its curriculum offerings to high school-aged students as well.

Pompom Asteroid Blaster

This experiment in physics explores the forces of air molecules acting on a pompom to propel it from an asteroid blaster. To start, you will need a balloon, plastic soda bottle and a pompom (1 ½” or ¾”). When the balloon is pulled back and released, air is compressed and pushes the pompom out of the pipe.

Steps:

  •       Cut the soda bottle in half.
  •       Stretch the opening of the balloon over the cut end and pull it over the bottle. (If you need more reinforcement, tape the side with duct tape, but it’s not necessary).
  •       Place a pompom in the opening where you drink from.
  •       Draw a series of asteroids (targets) and tape to the wall and see if you can hit them.
  •       Aim the blaster higher than the target, pull the balloon back and let it go to launch the pompom!
  •       Experiment with different distances!
Grappling Hook Launcher 

Another experiment in physics, this activity utilizes energy to empower a projectile to fly. Pulling back on the rubber band stores potential energy. When let go, this is converted into kinetic energy. To start you will need a straw, rubber band, one bent paperclip, a popsicle stick, small amount of clay, three feet of yarn, masking tape and velcro if you are using this on rugs.

Steps:

Build the Launcher

  •       Take one strip of tape and stick it along the popsicle stick so that half of the tape is overhanging the top of the stick.
  •       Take a rubber band and place it at the top of the craft stick so that it is stuck to the tape.
  •       For reinforcement, tape the second piece of tape over the first one going through the rubber band.

Build the Grappling Hook

  •       Tape one end of the yarn to the straw. Leave at least one inch at the end of the straw exposed so that the child can grip the projectile while launching it.
  •       Get a piece of finger-length tape. Clip the paperclip to tape at one end, so that the clip bends toward the side without adhesive.
  •       Stick the clay on the side of the straw at the end opposite their yarn. (Clay is needed for momentum.)
  •       Attach the hook by wrapping the paperclip and the tape around the straw and the clay. The hook should face away from the straw.
  •       Remove the plastic backing off the Velcro strips to expose their adhesive. Stick the pieces together on both sides of the straw. The rough sides of the Velcro should face away from the straw (only if will try to get it to stick on a rug).

Launch the Grappling Hook

  •       Pinch the projectile with the dominant hand by the inch of exposed straw at its rear and ensure that the string is free of any obstructions or tangles. Step onto the very end of the string (and only the very end) so that the whole thing doesn’t fly out of reach.
  •       Grip the launcher with the non-dominant hand and hook the projectile onto the rubber band. The craft stick should be perpendicular to the ground, and the projectile should be parallel to the ground. Pull back on the projectile to create just enough tension to keep the projectile from sliding off.

With one fluid motion, raise the launcher up to aim, pull the projectile back, release the projectile, and flick the launcher down and out of the way of the projectile. Pulling back and taking careful aim can actually backfire as your body overthinks the motion and ends up getting in its own way. Launch until the child is able to get it through or over their goal.

Mummified Apple

This experiment examines Desiccation. When salt is put on the apple it absorbs the moisture from the apple and dries out the apple slice. To start, you will need three apple slices, a 12” x 12” piece of tin foil, salt, baking soda, cotton strips (one per apple slice) and optional plastic jewels to add to the cotton wrappings.

Steps:

  •       Place two of the apple slices in the middle of the tin foil.
  •       Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda to the apples, coating the apple all over.
  •       Wrap the salted apple pieces up in the tin foil (shape it in a mummy shape).
  •       Wrap the tin foil mummified apple in the cotton strips. Decorate with jewels.
  •       Open your mummy in a week and observe if anything happened to your apple.
  •       Keep one apple slice in the open as the control and see how that compares with the mummified apples

Related: Best Places to Volunteer With Your Kids In D.C.

Vitamin C Testing

This experiment focuses on chemistry. Iodine, normally a brown liquid, turns purple in the presence of starch. When the iodine reacts with vitamin C, however, it converts into a form that does not react with the start, and the solution turns pale. For this project you will need cornstarch, water, iodine, different juices (such as apple and orange juice), spoons and cups.

Steps:

  •       Add a teaspoon of cornstarch to two cups of water and stir. You are going to create an indicator to measure the amount of vitamin C using cornstarch and iodine.
  •       Add two drops of iodine to each cup. Since iodine stains, gauge if adult help is needed.
  •       Note that when iodine mixes with starch, it turns purple, but when it mixes with vitamin C, it turns into a form that doesn’t bond with the starch. As a result, by adding more vitamin C, these solutions should get lighter and lighter.
  •       Next, test two fruit juices (apple and orange juice). Both contain vitamin C, so both should make the solutions lighter, but the one with more vitamin C should make the solution a bit lighter than the other.
  •       Using a spoon or pipette, place equal amounts of each of the juices in each of the two cups.
  •       Stir using their stir rods.
  •       Compare the two fruit juices. Ask which batch is lighter, the orange juice or the apple juice?  Which solution contains more vitamin C?
Cartesian Diver

This is an experiment in buoyancy. An object is buoyant in water due to the amount of water it displaces. Using pressure to a bottle you will watch how the diver is affected. To begin you will need a clear or translucent drinking straw, rubber bands, 10-20 paperclips, a clear plastic water bottle or soda bottle (12 ounces) with a cap, water and a pitcher or cup of water.

Steps:

Make the Diver

  •       Cut the straw in half.
  •       Take one of the straw pieces and fold in half. Tie the ends tightly with rubber bands so that the air stays in the straw.
  •       Hang two to three paper clips from the rubber band.
  •       Test the buoyancy in the large water pitcher. The entire straw should be suspended below the water level but the paper clips should not touch the bottom of the pitcher. Add or remove paper clips until you get the right buoyancy.

Take the empty soda bottle and fill it completely with water. Place the diver in the soda bottle and screw on the cap tightly. Don’t allow much air to be between the top of the bottle and the cap. Gently squeeze the bottle. As you squeeze, the diver will dive (sink) to the bottom of the bottle. If you stop squeezing, the diver floats back to the top. Do NOT turn the bottle upside down.

If water gets in the straw it won’t dive. If the diver sinks to the bottom, empty out the soda bottle, take the diver out and shake out excess water. Retest in the pitcher and follow the steps again.

Related: 3 Science Experiments To Try Outdoors With Kids This Summer

Laura Catherine Hermoza has a lifelong love for writing. In addition to serving as a contributor to various media publications, she is also a published novelist of several books and works as a proofreader/editor. LC resides in Baltimore County.