Inspire young minds with these Lockdown home science experiments to try in your kitchen or garden. Lava lamps, cabbage acid and alkali tests, astrology and more.
Sir Isaac Newton was driven by the belief that the path to knowledge lies in making observations rather than just reading books. He was also famous for trying science experiments at home in his kitchen…
So, with pupils out of school for the foreseeable future, we’ve taken inspiration from the master of modern physics to show you just how educational the real world can be.
The following practical lessons can be adapted for younger students (primary school-aged) and older students (secondary school-aged) and aim to inspire all of the young doctors, scientists and astronauts in your life to ask questions and make discoveries. Part two to follow next week.
Create a Lava Lamp
Time: 30 minutes
Lessons: Density and water polarity
- Find a see-through container, e.g. an empty water bottle
- Fill the container two thirds of the way with cooking oil
- Add half a mug of water
- Add a fizzy effervescent tablet (e.g. Vitamin C) or a tablespoon of baking soda
Watch how the carbon dioxide bubbles given off by the fizzy tablet react with the water causing water droplets to rise to the top of the oil. The droplets then fall back down when the gas is released at the surface and the process repeats.
You can add food colouring or shine a torch through the container to make it more aesthetically pleasing or if you want to increase the number of bubbles try adding a splash of vinegar after the baking soda has gone in.
What’s happening here?
This is one of our favourite home science experiments and is useful for demonstrating that different solutions have different densities.
For younger pupils
You can explain that due to the fact that the particles in oil are more spread out than the particles in water, the oil is less dense than the water and therefore sits on the top.
By adding gas bubbles to the water droplets, the overall gas-water combination is now less dense than the oil so that is why it rises to the top.
This example can be compared to other examples such as a less dense helium balloon rising through the more dense surrounding air.
For older students
You can explain that this experiment shows that polar molecules (molecules that have a positively charged side and a negatively charged side), like water, will bond together and not mix with non-polar molecules such as oil.
Whilst making the lava lamp you can try to shake the oil and water solution to try and get it to mix. You will find that an emulsion forms as the liquids seemingly mix together for a minute or so before they slowly separate into their layers again.
By adding an emulsifier (a substance with one polar end and one non-polar end) such as egg yolk or soap it attracts the oil on one end and the water on the other causing the liquids to be able to stay mixed together. This last step will ruin your lava lamp though so best to do this when you are done or in a separate container!
Red Cabbage Acid and Alkali Indicator
Time: 40 minutes
Lessons: Acid and Alkali
Another easy science experiment to try at home during lock down, that only uses household items, is to make your own indicator.
An “indicator” is something that changes colour at a specific pH value and so is very useful in identifying whether something is an acid, alkali or water.
- Blend or mix small pieces of red cabbage into water to create a purple solution (our indicator)
- Drop this liquid into different household liquids – good things to try are fizzy drinks, fruit juice, household cleaners, baking soda solutions, and toothpaste
- Watch for bright colour changes – from this you can tell whether or not they are an acid (reds, pinks and purples) or an alkali (blues, greens and yellows)
Solid objects can be tested too but it is best to mix them in with water to see the best colour changes.
For Younger Students
What do we mean by saying something is acidic or alkali?
Students can try mixing acids and alkalis together to see if this changes the colour at all. What we should find is that the acids and alkalis neutralise each other and meet somewhere in the middle of the scale to form a darker blue colour.
For Older Students
Try assigning the colour changes with a pH value (slide_3.jpg). You might also want to set a few unknown solutions at the start of the experiment that the student can compare to solutions with a known pH to make a suggestion as to what its pH is and even hazard a guess at what the unknown solution actually is.
Time: 20/30 minutes
Lessons: Basic astronomy and the life cycle of a star
One thing we can all take advantage of right now is the lower pollution levels that have been leading to clearer nights recently. This makes it slightly easier to spot planets, constellations and even at certain times each night the international space station hurtling across the sky. This isn’t necessarily a science experiment to try at home but it is great nonetheless.
The thousands of stars inspire thousands of questions and inspire students to think big about physics, exploration and even alien life.
Key things that can be spotted with the naked eye right now are the big dipper constellation, Venus, the ISS and towards the end of April the Lyrid Meteor Shower will be putting on a show – not to be missed.
Although it is possible to see all of this in your back garden with no specialist equipment, for the best outcomes, try and walk to a high point with as little light pollution as possible and use binoculars to try and see the constellations more clearly.
For Younger Students
Looking into the greek myths surrounding the constellations is a fantastic way for students to engage with the constellations and understand where they get their names from.
A good one to start with is Ursa Major (The Great Bear) as this is particularly easy to see at the moment and contains the also famous asterism (a collection of stars) the plough.
The story behind why The Great Bear is in the sky is that Callisto, a beautiful maiden, and Zeus, the ruler of all the Gods, had a child, Arcas. In order to hide Callisto and Arcas from his wife, Zeus turned them into bears, picked them up by their stubby tails and threw them into the night’s sky but in doing so their tails stretched out. A fun story that makes trying to spot The Great Bear and also The Little Bear (Ursa Minor) in the night’s sky quite entertaining.
For Older Students
Many of the stars we can see are actually dead stars and are no longer emitting light.
This really puts into perspective just how far away these stars are and how long it takes the light from those stars to travel the long distance.
The life cycle of a star is a good thing to study alongside the constellations as it helps students understand what happens after a star ‘goes out’ and how black holes can be formed.
This article was written by our top science tutor, Jack C.
If you’d like to talk to us about more science experiments to try at home or to speak to one of our science tutors please fill out a Contact Form or email email@example.com, call +44 (0) 2088193276 or WhatsApp