Top 10 Science Experiments to Try at Home
Science is all around us - it is not just confined to the classroom or laboratory. There are plenty of fun experiments that need very little equipment other than a few household items and some curiosity. Not only will this foster a culture of life-long learning, but it looks great on a college application! These experiments make great family projects to do together too - much better than vegetating in front of the tv!
Below you will find a selection of science experiments spanning across Biology, Chemistry, Physics and the Earth Sciences. Each section will list the equipment you need, some instructions, and an explanation of what happens.
1. Plastic Chemistry - Making Slime
- 2 Plastic cups
- 2 Plastic Spoons
- Food colouring - pick your favourite colour
- Borax Powder (usually found next to laundry detergent)
- PVA Glue
What to do:
- Mix a tablespoon of borax into around 75ml of water in the first cup. Stir until it dissolves (this may take a while)
- Mix a tablespoon of PVA glue with two tablespoons of water. Add some drops of food colouring. Stir well until well mixed.
- Add one tablespoon of the borax solution to the glue mixture. Stir well and see the mixture turn to slime.
- Leave the slime for 30seconds and then pick it up!
Borax causes cross-links between the long strands of the PVA. This prevents the strands from sliding over each other making this an example of a Non-Newtonian Fluid.
Next? Play about with the ratios of the ingredients to make different types of slime - stretchy, springy, bouncy and wet slimes can all be made by experimenting with how much borax you add.
2. Soda Volcano
The Quintessential DIY experiment. You will need:
- A large bottle of diet coke
- A pack of mentoes
- Fast hands
- An open space (Do not try indoors)
What to Do:
Everyone knows this one. Drop a couple of mentoes into a cola bottle and stand well back.
What's Happening? The surface of the candy may look smooth, but in physical terms, its actually quite rough. Fizzy drinks are fizzy because they undergo a steady chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide. The rough surface of the candy provides extra sites for this reaction to take place over - they are known as nucleation sites
Next? Experiment with different flavours of mentoes, brands of cola, other sugar coated sweets. You could try a sports-drink cap on the cola to see if this makes a difference
3. The Science of Hypercooling
My personal favourite! This experiment is how I introduce the science of melting and freezing. You will need:
- A metal bucket
- 1kg of table salt
- 6x 500ml bottled water
- Two bags of crushed ice and Water
What to Do: Check out this video for full details as this experiment, whilst straightforward, is delicate.
Next? Compete to see who can pour the tallest freezing tower
4. Rocket Science - Pocket Rockets
NASA aren't the only ones who can make rockets! You will need:
- A ye olde photo film cannister (most camera shops still have plenty to give away for free)
- Alka-seltzer tablet
- Small piece of blu-tak
- Water colouring or paint (optional)
What to do: Take the lid of the cannister and stick the blu-tak to the inside. Next, carefully but firmly stick your alka-seltzer tablet to the blu tack. Fill the cannister halfway with water. Firmly close the lid. You now have a fuelled pocket rocket. Simply turn upside down and step back.
What's Happening? This is simply an application of pressure. As the alka-seltzer dissolvers, it releases carbon dioxide. Because the cannister is airtight, it has nowhere to go! The pressure builds until it goes POP!
Next? Experiment with different amounts of water and brands of fizzing tablets. I play a trick where I count in my head whilst talking and snap my fingers just as each pocket rocket takes off :)
5. The Science of Double Glazing
Prove the effectiveness of your expensive double glazing with a simple experiment. You will need:
- Two empty 1 litre plastic drinks bottles
- One empty 2 litre plastic drinks bottle
- Sharp scissors
- Two identical glasses or paper cups - anything without a handle that is narrow enough to fit inside the smaller bottle
- A jug or something to fill the glasses from
- Hot water from the tap
- Two thermometer strips (sold at chemists and supermarkets) and some sticky tape.
What to do: Lots of steps to this one (and it is neatly stolen from the Bang website) so take a look at this link for full details and explanations!
6. Physics Magic Tricks
Sticky Rice: Get a clean jam jar. Fill to the top with rice. Hold the jar firmly with one hand, push a pencil right to the bottom. Pull the pencil up slowly but not all the way out. The push it back down again. If the rice level starts to drop, top up the rice.
Eventually, the rice will compact around your pencil, and you will be able to lift the whole jar with the pencil. When this happens, the friction between the pencil and rice is so large that you cannot easily pull the pencil out!
Bend water with static electricity: Blow up a balloon and rub it against your head to build up a static charge. Do this for several minutes to really get a decent charge. Then, turn a tap on: it should be on enough for a steady but slow stream of water to come out, not just drips. Bring the balloon close to the stream of water and observe what happens!
Super bouncing: Grab a tennis ball. Drop it on the floor and see how high it bounces. Now grab a basketball. Drop it on the floor and see how high it bounces. Now put the tennis ball on top of the basketball; support the basketball with one hand and the tennis ball with the other. Drop your two balls at exactly the same time. Now go and ask next-door for your tennis ball back.
7. Rainbow in a Glass
Density is anything but dense - take advantage of this physical concept by making a rainbow in a glass. You will need:
- 5 glasses
- Different coloured food colouring
- Epic patience and a steady hand - this will take some practice!
What to Do: Line up the glasses and put 3 tablespoons of water into the first four glasses. Add one tablespoon of sugar to glass one, two to glass two, three to glass three, four to glass four. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the sugar. Now add a different colour foodcolouring to each glass. Pour 1/4 of glass four into glass five. That was the easy bit.
This is the tricky bit. You must pour the next layer (glass three) so gently that it doesn't mix with the first layer. You can put a teaspoon just above the first layer and pour the mixture gently over the back of the spoon to minimise splash. The more slowly you do this, the better the results. When you have filled the glass to about the same width as the last layer, repeat with glass two, and then with glass one. If you have done this right you should get something like the picture.
What's Happening? The different amounts of sugar in water create different densities of water. As you are layering them with the heaviest at the bottom, the different layers will 'sit' on top of each other. Eventually, due to particle dynamics, the layers will mix. The greater the difference in density, the longer the effect lasts. Unlike water and oil, however, once you mix the layers, they will not settle back.
Next? A similar, more palatable, effect can be achieved with 'squashes' (drink mixes) instead of food colouring.
8. Hot Ice
Ice is a crystalline solid that forms when water freezes. But water is not the only liquid that makes crystals. You will need:
- Parental Supervision
- Sodium Acetate (easily available online)
- Pyrex dish
What to Do:
Pour the sodium acetate powder into a saucepan. Add water a little at a time. You want just enough to dissolve the gel, the less water you add, the better. Heat the mixture gently whilst stirring. You should notice the gel dissolving
Now pour this mixture into a glass, making sure not to let any undissolved gel into the glass. (Keep any undissolved crystals for later) Put this into the fridge for an hour to cool it.
Take out your 'hot-ice' mixture. It should be liquid. Touch it and watch the mixture instantly freeze. Feel the outside of the container - it should feel warm to the touch.
What's Happening? This is another example of supercooling, but with a liquid that freezes above 0. Remember, all freezing is is changing from a liquid to a solid - it doesn't have to be cold for this to happen
Next? To form the sculptures you need a metal tray scattered with a thin layer of sodium acetate powder to act as a nucleation site.
9. Grow Something!
I leave this to your imagination! Try growing flowers, tomatoes, herbs, anything! This will teach responsibility as well as open up avenues for different experiments (light levels, fertiliser levels, different places in the home, time of watering, regularity of watering) and allows children to develop their observation skills. Have them keep a journal or log of their observations over several weeks, writing down in detail what they do to the plant and what they see.
10. Self Inflating Balloon
Combine Biology and Physics to blow up a balloon with the power of yeast! You will need:
- A used washed fizzy drinks bottle (lid not required)
- Latex balloon (thinner the better)
- Elastic band
- Measuring Jug
What to Do: Place 2 teaspoons of yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar and one cup of water into the bottle. Put the balloon over the top of the bottle and secure with the elastic band. Leave, but keep an eye on it
What's happening? Yeast is actually a micro-organism. The yeast is 'eating' the sugar and respiring. A product of respiration is Carbon Dioxide, which slowly fills up the balloon.
Next? Experiment with different temperatures, different types of sugar, different amounts of sugar to see how quickly you can blow up the balloon.