Science projects

Now that summer vacation is here, this story can be told. This past year, my daughter needed a theme for her science project and I finally suggested making a ring vortex generator. She thought it was pretty cool and she ended up making a neat project out of it. Only trouble was - her friends at school were completely unimpressed and my daughter was a little disappointed by the cool reception of her project. I am sure there are other neat ideas for science projects that fellow members can suggest, so how about it? Please keep your suggestions to some rather basic science, because I’m not Mr. Wizard. By the way, two very neat websites for this kind of stuff are the site for Mr. Wizard (Don Herbert) and the site for “backyard ballistics”.

First things first–how old is she?

The smoke ring machine ? I made one when I was a kid. Made it out of a giant tupperware pail, innertube, and a coffee can. Incense filled it with smoke and you could snuff out candles fron 20 ft away. I still have it ! I don’t remember if it was a flop with all my peers but the important thing it to have fun while learning something new. Electricity was mearly a laboratory curiosity when it was first discovered.


A point in every direction is like no point at all

D.B. - My daughter is 13.

Oblio - That’s exactly what she made, but on a much smaller scale. She used a Quaker Oats box (it’s round) with a round hole cut into one end and a balloon streched across the other end. She used stick incense to put smoke into the chamber and made smoke rings. I think my daughter was putting out a candle from a much shorter distance, something like two to three feet. She had a great time with it, but as I said, her classmates were not very impressed.

What I am trying to do is gather info that my daughter could use next year and that I could use this summer at a summer camp that I am involved with here in Alaska. Please keep in mind that I am interested in simple, basic projects - I am not a rocket scientist! Something on the order of wintergreen lifesavers making sparks when you crunch them between your teeth is about the level I am looking for here.

Okay. I used this one for one of my projects in physics class my senior year of high school. The task was to make a toy that operated on some principle of physics, and my friend Brandon and I made a rocket out of a bottle.

We got a 2-liter Coke bottle, some cardboard and tape, a cork that fit in the bottle, and a bike pump with a needle. We filled the bottle about 1/5-1/4 full of water, put the cork in the neck, made sure it wasn’t leaking, and set it aside. Then, we cut fins out of the cardboard (you can design the fins so that the bottle will do many things in mid-air–we put them on so the bottle would spiral) and taped them securely to the neck end of the bottle so it could sit upright on the ground when upside-down. Then we stuck the needle of the bike pump into the cork, and started pumping air into the bottle. Eventually, the pressure builds up inside the bottle, blows out the cork, and the whole equal and opposite reaction thing happens, sending the bottle flying about 30 feet (depends on the amount of water you use) into the air. I’d imagine that a 13-year-old could do this without much of a problem.

D.B. - That sounds a lot like a toy I had a lonnnggg time (I’m 52) ago. The thing was a rocket about ten inches high, made of red and blue plastic, and was attached to a hand pump. After filling the rocket about half full of water, you pumped it up and it finally took off. I never considered the same feat could be done with a regular 2 liter plastic bottle! One problem, though; science projects for here in Alaska should be for indoors. The winters up here are such that most activities take place indoors. I’ll tinker around with this idea for summer camp, though. Thanks.

I made a ring vortex generator. They’re a lot of fun. I used a coffee can with both ends cut off; you duct tape a rubber sheet across one end and then put a coffee can lid on the other end, with a hole in it. You can experiment with different sizes and shapes of holes to see what works best. I didn’t use it for science; I mostly used it to “shoot” people. People were amazed by it. I can’t believe that a ring vortex generator wouldn’t be met with a good reception in any of the schools that I went to. A great smoke generator to use is a piece of paper with a drop of ammonia, and a drop of muriatic acid, i.e. HCl- you can get it from chem class or at hardware stores. Don’t let the two liquids touch- you want the vapors to combine in the air to make ammonium chloride dust. The rings this stuff makes are great.
Here’s a brainstorm of some good science fair projects that I wish I had thought of when I was in school:
[ul][li]If you roll spheres, discs, and hoops down an inclined plane, which rolls the fastest? Do they all take the same time to roll down or not? (If you MUST know, all spheres beat all discs, and all discs beat all hoops.)[/li][li]Here’s another one I always wondered about: When you have tea with a couple tea leaf fragments in it (or almost anything else, actually) and you stir it, the tea leaves accumulate in a very well defined pile at the bottom of the cup, at the dead center. Why is that? What if the particles are bigger or smaller? How does the viscosity of the liquid affect that?[/li][li]“How well can a dog sniff out a buried piece of bacon? Can it sniff out the bacon when it’s had a sip of beer?” (You’d have to carefully measure the beer consumed by the dog. Dogs OD on beer easily, too.)[/li][li]What happens to a penny thrown from the top of the Empire State Building? (You’d need to have a camcorder for that one. And a confederate, preferably one that cannot be charged as an adult.)[/li][li]How much power can you get out of a baking soda / vinegar rocket? The pH required for baking soda to undergo decarboxylation seems to decrease with higher CO2 pressures.[/li][li]What plastics are soluble in acetone?[/li][li]If I point a camcorder at a TV that is showing a picture of the camcorder image, what happens?[/li][li]Can I use a penlight to get a firefly to come to me? (A. Yes you can, but you have to turn it on and off in a certain pattern.)[/li][li]Ants and the trails they make have lots of good experiments waiting to be done. You may need an ant farm for this. How do ants carry things that are way too big to carry back? Will ants stay away from certain substances, like chalk lines? How long does their trail last before it evaporates?[/li][li]Can Silly Putty get so cold that it shatters instead of bouncing? How cold does it have to be to lose its pliability? (If you have one of those “quickcams” you can make a time lapse movie easily. Silly Putty seems to behave just like water when viewed over a time lapse.)[/li][li]How about that Silly-Putty-like stuff you get if you mix Elmer’s glue (polyvinyl alcohol) with borax?[/li][li]How accurately do parking meters measure time? (This science fair project got a girl on Letterman. Her results: they are wildly inaccurate, both slow and fast.)[/li][li]What happens if you cook with aspartame? Is it still sweet? (A. No, it racemizes- and D-aspartic acid isn’t good for you either) How about Olestra? Can you make lye soap using Olestra? (A. Sure, probably.)[/li][li]Does sugar really do anything if you pour it in a gas tank?[/li][li]If you have access to a pair of identical twins, there are a lot of psychological and physiological experiments you can do with them. (I was never so lucky in my budding scientific career.)[/li][li]Do microwaved baseballs bounce higher than frozen baseballs?[/li]“Which freezes faster…?”[/ul]

RR - Found this while waking up, it seems to have a good selection of projects for all skill levels.


A point in every direction is like no point at all

One that I did at about the same age was to research how electroplating works and then make my own copper-plating setup. I used a lantern battery for the power source and attached wires with alligator clips to the terminals, then attached a couple of pennies to the outgoing terminal (negative? I think so) and the object to be plated (usually a quarter) to the incoming terminal. The coins were then submerged in a solution of copper sulfate and water.

The way it works is electricity flows down the wire and out through the pennies, carrying copper atoms with it. It then travels through the copper sulfate solution, which is now overloaded with copper, and flows in the quarter and back to the battery. the surplus copper is deposited on the quarter as the electricity flows through it.

The process is slow, so have her do up some examples of things that were plated for varying lengths of time. Also, have some extra alligator-clip wires, because the one that holds the pennies becomes corroded pretty quickly.

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