An Oobleck Recipe and Fun Experiments With a Non-Newtonian Fluid

Updated on November 14, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton has an honors degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry, and other science subjects for many years.

Green Oobleck
Green Oobleck | Source

What Is Oobleck?

Oobleck is a strange and very entertaining liquid. It becomes a solid when pressed, hit, or shaken and then returns to its liquid state when the stress is removed. Playing with oobleck is great fun for both children and adults. It's quick, easy, and safe to make and contains only two ingredients, which are both inexpensive. I've found that students in the youngest grade of high school right through to the oldest grade love making oobleck and exploring its behaviour.

Oobleck is named after the sticky green substance in the 1949 Doctor Seuss book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”. In the book, a magical spell causes green Oobleck (written with a capital O) to fall from the sky on to the kingdom of Didd. This event creates multiple problems. Bartholomew is a page boy to King Derwin. His suggestion to the king saves the kingdom from the goo.

Experimenting with oobleck is not only enjoyable but also illustrates some interesting science facts. The only disadvantage is that the experiment can create a temporary mess, but even this problem can be solved quite easily.

Corn, or maize, is a nutritious grain. It's also a source of cornstarch, which is helpful for both cooks and oobleck makers.
Corn, or maize, is a nutritious grain. It's also a source of cornstarch, which is helpful for both cooks and oobleck makers. | Source

How to Make Oobleck

Ingredients

1 cup of water
1 1/2 to 2 cups of cornstarch or corn starch (which is called cornflour or corn flour in the UK)

(Any ratio of about 1 part water to 1.5 to 2 parts cornstarch will work.)

Instructions

  • Add the water to a bowl.
  • Rub some cornstarch between your fingers before you add it to the water. The starch has an interesting, silky feel.
  • Gradually add the cornstarch to the water and mix with a spoon (or your hand).
  • Once you’ve added 1 1/2 cups of cornstarch, add some more slowly and start mixing with your hand so that you can feel when the oobleck is ready.
  • Squeeze the oobleck as you add the cornstarch. If it forms a solid ball as you squeeze and then liquifies when you stop squeezing, it's ready to use.
  • If you make a mistake during mixing, add extra water or cornstarch until the oobleck forms.

Some people like to add food colouring to the oobleck for fun, but don't add too much because it can stain skin and clothing. Add a small amount of the colouring to the water before you mix the water with the cornstarch. A green colour would be fun for children who like the Doctor Seuss book. Making green goo could also be a way to introduce children to the book.

Making Cornstarch Goo

Experiments for Children

You might want children to wear an apron during these potentially messy experiments. You might also want to cover the surface which is being used for the experiments. In my experience, oobleck can spread widely when used by enthusiastic students.

  • Squeeze some oobleck to make a solid, then open your hand and watch the solid turn back into a liquid.
  • Roll some oobleck into a ball. Open the hand that is holding the ball and watch the solid change into a liquid.
  • Create an oobleck ball and try to pass the ball to someone else before it liquifies. (This is potentially a very messy activity.)
  • Try bouncing an oobleck ball on the rest of the oobleck.
  • Measure how long it takes for strands of liquified goo to drip into a container from a specific height.
  • Rest your fingers on the surface of the oobleck and let them sink, then try to pull your fingers out quickly.
  • Find out how fast you can move your fingers through the goo.
  • Try using a hand or fist to slap or hit some oobleck. A large aluminum tray is good for this experiment.
  • Fill a large container (or two smaller containers) with oobleck. Try walking on the goo. You will have to move your feet rapidly to avoid sinking.

Oobleck is safe, since it can be made with only cornstarch and water. The food colouring added to oobleck may stain clothes, however.
Oobleck is safe, since it can be made with only cornstarch and water. The food colouring added to oobleck may stain clothes, however. | Source

The Creeping Oobleck Experiment

Creating creeping oobleck is one of the most interesting experiments with cornstarch goo. The goo seems to have a mind of its own during this activity.

To perform the experiment, a speaker that produces sounds that are łoud enough to vibrate the speaker is needed. One with strong base sounds is best. Once a suitable speaker is obtained, the rest of the process is easy.

  • Place the speaker on its side.
  • Plug the speaker in.
  • Turn the speaker and the source of the music or sounds on.
  • Place a metal tray or a disposable plastic plate containing oobleck on top of the working speaker, or place a small amount of oobleck on strong plastic wrap on top of the speaker. The metal tray is probably safest for the speaker but may not transmit the vibrations well.
  • Don’t use an expensive speaker for this process in case the oobleck container breaks!
  • Once the experiment is over, turn off the speaker and unplug it with dry hands.

The oobleck forms strange, changing tendrils as it solidifies and then liquifies in response to the vibrations coming from the speaker. Watching the tendrils can be fascinating. Two of my senior students demonstrated creeping oobleck during a project on non-Newtonian fluids. They used an iPod touch to drive the speaker.

Creeping or Dancing Oobleck

How to Dispose of Oobleck

Never pour oobleck or cornstarch down the drain. The drain may block if liquid oobleck solidifies inside it. Instead, pour or scrape the oobleck into a garbage can. The dried material becomes a powder and is easy to brush away.

Wash your containers and hands (and any other body parts or clothing covered with oobleck) only when most of the material has been removed and put in the garbage container. Warm water will help to remove oobleck remnants from hands.

Walking on Oobleck

What Are Newtonian Fluids?

Most fluids are classified as “Newtonian” fluids. They’re named after Isaac Newton, the famous scientist who lived from 1643 to 1726. He made many extremely valuable contributions to our present knowledge of science. Newton stated that fluids have a constant viscosity (ability to flow) if the temperature is kept constant. Applying a force or stress to the fluid doesn’t change its viscosity.

An example of a Newtonian fluid is water. If you press your hand on water in a container, the water doesn’t resist the force that you’re creating or change its viscosity and your hand falls into the water. It you try to walk on the water, you sink.

What Are Non-Newtonian Fluids?

Non-Newtonian fluids behave differently from Newtonian ones when a force or stress is applied to them. If you press, hit, or shake a non-Newtonian fluid, its viscosity changes. In some fluids the viscosity increases while in others it decreases. In oobleck, the viscosity increases with stress as the oobleck resists the applied force and the liquid becomes a solid.

Four Types of Non-Newtonian Fluids

Type
Description
Example
Action
Shear Thickening or Dilatant
Viscosity increases as stress increases
Oobleck
Squeezing or hitting oobleck causes it to solidify.
Shear Thinning or Pseudoplastic
Viscosity decreases as stress increases
Tomato sauce or ketchup
Shaking a bottle of thick ketchup causes the ketchup to become more liquid.
Thixotropic
Viscosity decreases as a stress is applied over time
Honey
Continually stirring solid honey causes it to liquify.
Rheopectic
Viscosity increases as a stress is applied over time.
Cream
Continually whipping cream causes it to become thicker.
This is a typical oobleck mess. Don't let the mess discourage you from making oobleck, though. The process is great fun.
This is a typical oobleck mess. Don't let the mess discourage you from making oobleck, though. The process is great fun. | Source

Why Does Oobleck Solidify When a Stress Is Applied?

Oobleck is a colloid, which is a mixture consisting of large but still microscopic particles suspended in another substance. Cornstarch particles are spread through the water in liquid oobleck but aren't dissolved in it. The starch particles exist as long chains. When the oobleck is not under pressure, the cornstarch chains and water molecules slide past each other and the oobleck is a liquid. When pressure is applied, water molecules are temporarily pushed out of the way and the cornstarch molecules are pushed together. The starch molecules can no longer slide over one another and the oobleck appears to be a solid. When the pressure is removed, water moves in between the starch molecules again and the oobleck returns to its liquid form.

It should be noted that some scientists believe that there are additional processes at work in oobleck solidification. Researchers at Georgetown University think that the study of oobleck's behaviour could be useful in the creation of soft robots and a new type of body armour.

Custard
Custard | Source

Walking on Custard

Traditional custard is a mixture of egg yolks and milk which is heated until it thickens. While I was growing up, however, “custard” meant Bird’s Custard to me. This is sold as a powder containing cornstarch mixed with artificial flavour and colour. If custard powder is mixed with water in the right proportion, custard oobleck forms. If you had enough of the custard oobleck you could put it in a large container, as shown in the video above. Then you could walk on custard!

An Educational and Fun Activity

Don't let the messiness of playing with oobleck discourage you from the activity. It's wonderful to have a fun and safe experiment for children that can also teach them about the science of fluids. With some guidance from a parent or teacher, playing with oobleck is not only fun but also educational.

References

Non-Newtonian fluids from the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications

The secret of oobleck from Cornell University

Oobleck research from Georgetown University

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Linda Crampton

    Comments

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      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, WASSUP!

      • profile image

        WASSUP 

        3 years ago

        AWESOME

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi ICarrie. Yes, with three kids in the home oobleck experiments could be very interesting! As long as you're prepared for the mess though, playing with oobleck will probably be fun for everybody. Thanks for the visit and the comment.

      • ICarrie profile image

        Carrie Jones 

        6 years ago from Georgia

        Awesome!!! I almost forgot about that book. I read it as a child until the cover came off and a few more times after that. I am excited to make this experiment and family time activity. We are going to have to read the book and play with our very own ooblek. Hope it doesn't take over the whole house. With three kids you never know.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, unknown spy. Yes, oobleck is amazing, and great fun to play with! Thanks for the comment.

      • unknown spy profile image

        IAmForbidden 

        6 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

        woowww that was amazing!!! this is really fun to try

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, ptosis. Thanks for commenting. Yes, making and playing with oobleck is fun for adults as well as children!

      • ptosis profile image

        ptosis 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        I had no idea it was so easy to make - I thought it was high dollar/high tech stuff. Fun to do on a rainy day and make a kid wonder. (parents also!)

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, CMHypno. Thanks for commenting. The oobleck experiment is fun, and it can be educational, too. The cornstarch goo is very popular with children!

      • CMHypno profile image

        CMHypno 

        6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

        Never heard of oobleck before, but it looks like a fun experiment to try out. Thanks for the great tips Alicia

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the visit and the comment, Tina. Yes, exploring the properties of oobleck is very enjoyable for children!

      • thougtforce profile image

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        This was total news to me, I have never heard nor seen it before! This was so fun to read and learn about Oobleck and it must be a great activity to do with children! Thanks for this interesting and useful hub!

        Tina

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Prasetio. Thank you once again for the vote! Oobleck experiments are a lot of fun to perform.

      • prasetio30 profile image

        prasetio30 

        6 years ago from malang-indonesia

        Nice experiment. Actually I had never know about this before. I learn much from you. Thanks for share with us. Vote up!

        Prasetio

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the visit and the votes, Chatkath. I think that "oobleck" is a lovely word! It also sounds strange, which suits the nature of the cornstarch and water mixture very well.

      • Chatkath profile image

        Kathy 

        6 years ago from California

        Most entertaining hub Alicia! Oobleck! My vocabulary just grew, as I have never heard of it, making your hub that much more fun! I have got to try this one! Voted up, useful and interesting!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Movie Master. Thanks a lot for commenting and for the vote. Playing with oobleck is fun, and it's interesting to observe its behavior, too!

      • Movie Master profile image

        Movie Master 

        6 years ago from United Kingdom

        Hi Alicia, what a fun hub to read and I am so excited about making Oobleck, now I know exactly what I will be doing next week with my grandaughter!

        Voting up and thanks for sharing.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, snizinspiredbyGod. It is fun to play with oobleck.

        The experiment with the speaker is my favorite one - I find it fascinating to watch the oobleck tendrils!

      • snizinspiredbyGod profile image

        snizinspiredbyGod 

        6 years ago

        Where were you when I was in science class? Enjoyed. Can't wait to try it!!!

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Becky! Making and experimenting with oobleck would be a great homeschooling activity. The only precaution that needs to be taken is to prepare for the mess that will probably be created! Thanks for commenting.

      • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Crampton 

        6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, b. Malin. I appreciate your comment! I enjoy writing all my hubs, but I must admit that creating this one was especially fun. Oobleck is a wonderful substance because it's safe and easy to make and playing with it can be enjoyable for people of any age!

      • Becky Katz profile image

        Becky Katz 

        6 years ago from Hereford, AZ

        I homeschool my daughter. I can see an oobleck class coming up. Looks fun.

      • b. Malin profile image

        b. Malin 

        6 years ago

        How much Fun was this Hub to read Alicia...Wow, who knew? Oobleck...So Useful, and so Interesting...It's all so Magical. I will Bookmark to show friends and family. Thanks for sharing!

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