The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 20, 2013

Summer science: Experiments can extinguish boredom, ignite fires of curiosity

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — A trip to the Discovery Center in Springfield or Science City in Kansas City may not work all the time.

But anyone with a kitchen and kids has all they need to squash boredom with science.

At the same time, kids will get a taste of how fun science can be, and learn how to find answers to their own questions.

The idea is to ignite our own natural inquisitiveness, which Brent Dodge says is part of human nature.

"Kids have a natural curiosity," said Dodge, a life science instructor and lab supervisor at Crowder College's Webb City campus. "The scientific method is natural. It's the way we solve problems in everyday life."

As an example, Dodge mentioned what would happen if someone leaving for work tried to start their car, but the car wouldn't work.

The driver would wonder if it was because the battery was dead, then test the theory. If not the battery, then they'd check the engine or other options.

"People don't recognize that all humans are natural scientists," Dodge said. "It's natural in the way the brain works."

Encouraging that curiosity is as simple as answering questions with the response, "I don't know, let's go find out," he said.

Parents who are intimidated by science don't need to be, he said.

And these experiments should bring parents and kids together on a path of summer discovery.

Crushing cans

Aluminum cans can be crushed with fists or devices, but they can also be smashed with simple air pressure.




The can will crush itself right in front of your eyes.


Dodge said that air pressure is responsible for crushing the can. As the air inside the can heats, it expands, meaning that there is less air.

When the can is suddenly chilled and sealed (both things happen in the ice water) the pressure outside the can is greater, and literally presses the edges of the can together.

The experiment is a good lesson in physics, Dodge said. That information can be applied to talking about submaries or space travel.

Room-temp lava lamp

Lava lamps are fun to watch, but hot to the touch. The effect can be simulated pretty easily, however.




The oil blobs will travel down and up, similar to a lava lamp. Each oil blob makes only one trip, however.


Oil and water don't mix because of their densities -- oil has less density than water. But the oil will cling to the salt. As the salt (heavier than both the oil and water) travels down, it will take some of the oil with it.

The salt will eventually dissolve, however. When it does, the oil will have nothing to cling to, and will rise back up to the top.

The experiment is a good lesson in chemistry and about how things mix with each other.

Homemade pH test

While this won't give results good enough for accurate chemical testing, it will teach kids about chemical reactions, acids and bases.




The blue color of the cabbage juice will change.


Dodge said the cabbage juice is a natural pH indicator. In a nutshell, pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is.

Lemon juice is acidic and ammonia is alkaline -- those two substances will produce bright pink and dark  green colors, respectively.

Once those two are set, other substances can be tested, effectively making a color chart similar to a pool testing kit. Everything from shampoo to soda can be tested and placed in the spectrum.