Monthly Archives: November 2017

Bubble Hurricanes

CAUTION: This experiment uses a hot plate. Please use adult supervision if attempting to recreate.

Bubbles are a great resource for fun and physics. They provide interesting insight for optimization and can even be used as models for atmospheres. Scientists are able to use bubbles as models for the atmosphere because they are very thin compared to the sphere they enclose, just like Earth and it’s atmosphere!


To show this, you can do a very simple experiment, but be sure to have supervision since there is a risk of burn. All you’ll need is a stove top, a metal dish, soap, and a straw. Heat up the metal dish, pour a soap solution on top and blow a bubble into it, using the straw so as to not burn yourself.

hurricanes 1

You will be able to see vortices form in the film of the bubble. These vortices mimic those of how hurricanes and cyclones form. As the soap film is heated up from the bottom the vortices are formed. The strength of the vortices intensify then die in a uniform way. This is due to convection currents.

Convection currents are the transfer of heat by the mass movement of heated particles into an area of cooler ones. Convection currents on Earth is what causes things like weather and storm patterns. The hotter the planet gets, from geothermal heating and climate change, the more intense weather we will experience.

The same phenomenon can be clearly seen in our bubble hurricanes. The hotter the soap solution becomes, the more intense the vortices will be, but they also die out much more rapidly.

Credit: University of Bordeaux in France

Written By: Mimi Garai

Can you Freeze Antifreeze?

CAUTION: Antifreeze is a very powerful chemical that, if ingested, can cause serious illness or death. Do not attempt to use it without adult supervision. All appropriate safety precautions have been taken for the filming of this video.

If you are from a colder part of the world, then you know how important antifreeze is. It is mainly used for pipes in homes and cars. But it no longer becomes useful if it itself freezes. Can that happen?


Antifreeze is a substance that lowers the freezing point of water, protecting a system from the ill effects of ice formation. The purpose of antifreeze is to prevent a rigid enclosure from bursting due to expansion when water freezes. Water usually freezes at about 0˚C or 32˚F, but when antifreeze is added to it that changes to being able to freeze at about -50˚F.

Knowing this, we wanted to see the affects if we poured some into liquid nitrogen and pour liquid nitrogen into antifreeze.

anitfreeze 1

It turns out that it freezes, but in a weird way. It actually takes a long time for the antifreeze to freeze. The -321˚F liquid nitrogen does the trick, but will take more than a minute to freeze it all the way through, compared to water which takes a few seconds. The solid antifreeze is not uniform, and does not look like the liquid. It is opaque compared to the clearish liquid, and almost cloud like in shape!

Written By: Mimi Garai

How to Supercool Water

Water is usually pretty predictable. At standard pressures it will boil at 100˚C and freeze at 0˚C. However, under special circumstances it might surprise you. Dihydrogen monoxide can become supercooled, dropping below 0˚C while maintaining the liquid phase of matter.


Here’s how:

  • Acquire distilled or purified water.
  • Fill an empty bottle with tap water (this is your control).
  • Place all three bottles in the freezer at the same time
  • Leave them in for roughly 2 hours (if all of the water was originally at room temperature)
  • The timing of this will vary with each freezer. After the first hour, check on the bottles periodically to check for signs of freezing.
  • The bottle filled will freeze before the purified water. At this point you will know that the purified water is below zero, and is ready to be removed from the freezer.
  • Take it out, give it a hard slam on the table, and watch the H2O turn from liquid to a solid right in front of your eyes!

Water cool

The liquid will flash freeze into a solid. By hitting it on the table, the water molecules are bumped into alignment in a more crystalline structure, typical in solid ice. This induces a chain reaction that you can follow all the way down the bottle!

Written By: Mimi Garai

The Coolest Molecules

CAUTION: This experiment uses dry ice (-109˚F) and liquid nitrogen (-321˚F). Proper safety equipment should always be used when handling these substances.

Physics tells us that pressure, volume and temperature are all linked when talking about gases. So what does this have to do with solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) and liquid nitrogen? When dry ice is placed into a balloon at room temperature, which is then tied off, it will start to warm up.


Since the ambient air temperature is roughly 65˚F, the air that surrounds the balloon is more than 150 degrees warmer than the dry ice! This hug difference adds energy to the dry ice turning it into gaseous carbon dioxide through the process of sublimation. Sublimation is the phase transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase.

molecules cool

Now that there is a balloon full of carbon dioxide gas we can cool it down with something colder than dry ice. This is where liquid nitrogen comes in. The balloon gets dunked into a bowl full of the -321˚F liquid! Cooling the gas in the balloon down means that it loses energy making the molecules start to clump, making the balloon lose volume. It will turn the carbon dioxide gas back into a solid through the process of deposition. Deposition is basically the opposite of sublimation, turning the gas directly into a solid.

molecules done

This process of cooling and warming to change the balloon’s volume can be repeated over and over again. Or, with the inflated balloon, dunk it in the bowl of liquid nitrogen, take it out, and before it can expand again, rip it open to see the solid carbon dioxide for yourself!

Written By: Mimi Garai


The Space Between Planets

Have you ever really sat down to think about how much space there is in the universe? It’s pretty inconceivable, but there are some useful tools that can help put things in perspective. You’ve already seen a scale model of our solar system by mass, so here is a model of the space between our planets that can fit in your pocket!


What you need:

  • Long strip of paper
  • Marker
  • Brain

First, cut a strip of paper long enough that it roughly spans the distance of your arms. Then, have a marker handy to be ready to indicate where each planet will lie.

  1. Label one end of the strip as the sun and the other as Pluto/Kuiper belt.
    1. This will show the full distance between the sun and the outer reaches of the solar system.
  2. Fold the paper in half and crease it. That line is for Uranus, it is roughly halfway between Pluto and the sun!
  3. Fold it in half again (it should now be in quarters). The crease between Uranus and Pluto is for Neptune.
  4. The crease that is between the sun and Uranus is for Saturn.
  5. Now fold the sun to Saturn and mark Jupiter in that crease.
    1. We have completed all of the gaseous outer planets, meaning that all that is left are the rocky inner planets, which fit between the sun and Jupiter!
  6. Fold the sun to Jupiter and label it as the asteroid belt, the area in our solar system where some of the largest known asteroids live.
  7. Now fold the sun to the asteroid belt. This is where Mars goes.
    1. We will complete the remaining three planets in the last step.
  8. Fold the sun to Mars, then fold in half again. Closest to the sun is Mercury followed by Venus, then Earth.

planets 9

Take a look, roll it up, and there you have it! A basic scale model of the distances between the planets of our solar system that can fit in your pocket. Would you have been able to guess how much space there is relatively between our planets? Did any of the spacings surprise you?

Written By: Mimi Garai

Free Energy or Toy

Electricity is one of the most useful discoveries of our relatively recent history. It lights the rooms we hang out in, give power to some vehicles and allows for communication across vast distances. In 1800, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta discovered that particular chemical reactions could produce electricity so he constructed the voltaic pile (an early electric battery) that produced a steady electric current.


Since then, electricity has been adapted to try to fit the needs of people better. In 1891, inventor Nikola Tesla wanted to make a way to transmit electricity without the use of wires, so that more people could have access to a cities source. He created the Tesla coil, a resonant transformer circuit to try to do just that.

However, with this new technology came challenges. It turns out that spraying electricity into the air is a waste. Whether the power would be used or not, it’ll eventually dissipate. It is also quite dangerous without the use of proper equipment. The large arcs of electricity that you see are about 650,000 volts! For comparison, the electricity that comes out of your wall is at about 120 volts, which is dangerous in it’s own right.

energy zoom

Today, Tesla coils are not used for free energy, or really anything useful. However, they are used far and wide in classrooms as scientific demonstrations! They are also, really fun to play with, as long as you do so safely. Faraday cages or grounding rods should always be used, and can even be used to control the flow of the electric discharge!

Written By: Mimi Garai

Pendulum Waves

You’ve already seen the way a no-flinch pendulum works, so now we are changing it up. This contraption is host to many pendulums next to each other but not touching. When you raise them up and let them go all at once, you can see something truly mesmerizing.

pendulum wave

They will all start to fall at the same rate, thanks to the laws of gravity, but after the first swing the will not be synchronized. This is due to them being uncoupled, or not connected, and to the length of each individual pendulum. The pendulum furthest away has the shortest length and the closest pendulum has the longest. All of the pendulums in the middle gradually become longer as they get closer.

The period of a pendulum is mostly dependent on its length. Since the lengths gradually increase, so will the periods, causing them to become out of sync. However, that can cause some pretty visually pleasing effects!

pendulum wave middle

Of course, given enough time, all of our pendulums will eventually line back up again in the end. But not before going through some other awesome patterns, as well as what may look like chaos.

pendulum wave end

This is not the easiest DIY project, but it is possible to recreate, so give it a try. Or you can always find it online or in store, but either way it is definitely worth seeing in person. Let us know what you think!

Written By: Mimi Garai

Electric Motor DIY

An electric motor is a device used to convert electrical energy to mechanical energy. Electric motors are extremely important in modern-day life. They are used in vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, computer printers, machine tools, cars, subway systems, sewage treatment plants, etc, and you can make your own at home! Here’s how:


  • Copper wire
  • D battery
  • Magnet
  • Electrical tape
  • Scissors

electric diy


Coil the wire around a battery about 30 times. Wrap the extended ends of the wire through the coil, securing the coils in place.

Step 2:

Carefully file the enamel off of the bottom half of the extended portion of the wire.

Step 3:

Secure one wire post to each end of the battery, creating a small U-shape to cradle the coil.

Step 4:

Slide a magnet onto the battery.

Step 5:

Place the coil onto the posts and give it an initial spin!

diy electric 2

Electricity will flow from the battery through the coil of wire. Moving electricity induces a magnetic field in the coil, which opposes the magnet half of the time, and is attracted the other half. Give it a flick and watch the electrical energy from the battery be converted into the mechanical spinning you see!

Written By: Mimi Garai

The Geminid Meteors

Nothing is more exciting than looking up and seeing a shooting star streak across the night sky. But we all know it’s not really a star falling from the heavens, but rather a giant ball of rock, ice and dust skimming through the atmosphere.

This December we will be able to witness one of the most famous and spectacular meteor showers of the year. The Geminid Meteors will be in view between December 4th and December 16th. However, it will peak on the night of December 13th at roughly 10:00 PM, with the possibility of sighting about 120 meteors per hour.


Unlike most other meteor showers, these meteors don’t come from a comet flying through Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, they come from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

meteors 1Due to 3200 Phaethon’s highly elliptical orbit and maximum distance from the sun, takes about 1.4 years to orbit it. It has a debris trail in orbit and once a year, Earth runs into this dusty path, which intersects our planet’s path through space. It gets extremely close to the sun, only 13 million miles from it (Earth is about 93 million away from the sun).

Unfortunately, December’s supermoon may wash out all but the brightest meteors. But, facing south can be helpful to view them, since this is where they appear to emerge from. With or without the supermoon be sure to check it out, it’ll be a sight worth seeing!

Written By: Mimi Garai

How to: Kinetic Sculpture

Kinetic sculptures are moving art pieces, that usually do not have a motor, but alternatively use other forms of energy to propel the movement. Wind, water, or an initial manual push are common types of energy which kinetic sculptures harness. The art piece that we are going to make is going to harness energy given off from a flame.

What you need:

  • Clothes Pin
  • Skewer
  • Construction Paper
  • Tea Candle
  • Scissors

kinetic sculptures

Step 1:

Cut a spiral in the piece of construction paper.

Step 2:

Secure your skewer with the clothes pin perpendicular to the table and lightly place the center of the spiral on the point.

Step 3:

Place the tea candle on the clothes pin, under the spiral, and light it.

kinetic sculptures 1

The flame heats up the air around it. Since hot air is less dense than cold air, it rises. The air current flowing pass the spiral will push it, causing it to spin. There you have it, an easy DIY kinetic sculpture, harnessing energy to make moving art. What awesome science-art pieces can you come up with?

Written by: Mimi Garai


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