Spooky Science: At home experiments for the kids this Halloween

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 7:43 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2020 at 8:05 AM EDT
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WILSON, N.C. (WITN) - Halloween will likely look different this year, with less families out and about trick-or-treating. If you are looking for ways to still ring in the holiday safely at home, Covey Denton and the science kids have some ideas to bring some spooky Halloween fun to you.

Ms. Covey Denton presented experiments virtually on WITN News at Sunrise Tuesday that you can recreate at home.

Be sure to watch the attached videos!

Descriptions from Ms. Denton:

Goldenrod Paper

There is a special chemical in the goldenrod paper called phenolphthalein. This chemical reacts by changing color when it is in the presence of an acid or a base. The baking soda is a base and causes the dye in the goldenrod paper to change color. Only some goldenrod papers will work! Many don’t have the special chemical you need.

To turn the paper back to yellow, you will need to use an acid, like lemon juice or vinegar.

When we used the wax from the candle, it coated the paper and didn’t allow the base to react with the phenolphthalein. This revealed our spooky haunted ghostly messages.

This paper is a fun way to test different items around your home to see if they are acids or bases. Just cut little strips and dip it into the solutions. It is very important to never mix chemicals so make sure to give each chemical its own test strip. We tested vinegar, milk, salad dressings, bleach, laundry detergent, ammonia, glass cleaner, pickle juice and just about everything we could find under the kitchen sink to see what made a color change!

Ghost Eggs and Eye of Newt

The water beads are made up of a super absorbent polymer. A polymer is just a very long chain of identical molecules that repeat and hook together. We use them everyday in cotton, silk, silicone, hair conditioner, paint, gelatin, polyester, eyeglasses etc.

Each polymer acts a certain way based on the molecules that are linked together. The one to make these ghost babies is super absorbent and the molecules act like tiny sponges. When there is no water, the chain is twisted up and piled up on itself. When you soak it, the molecules on the outside start to grab the water and swell and unwind and grab more water and swell and unwind. Each link gets larger and larger as more and more water connects to the “chain” of polymers. This polymer swells to 300 times the original size so that is about 98% water and only 2% polymer!

The reason these polymers “disappear” when placed in water has to do with something called the index of refraction. Refraction is bending light. The beads are almost entirely water, so they bend the light the same way that water does, making them seem to disappear. If you get these to play with at home, make sure you don’t put them down the drain. They will definitely clog the pipe! They were designed to be environmentally beneficial and used with plants. You can add them to potted plants to help keep plants hydrated (which is why they are available from florists and florist supply shops). You can also let them dry out on a cookie sheet and reuse them later.

Candy Catapult and Trebuchet

In Medieval times, cities were surrounded by seemingly impenetrable walls. They were very tall and very thick. You couldn’t easily climb over or break through. So, scientists devised a way to launch projectiles over the wall and attack from the outside. They build both catapults and trebuchets. A catapult combines a simple machine, the lever, with a spring. The trebuchet moves the fulcrum of the lever to the middle and uses a counterweight instead of the spring.

We aren’t storming the castle, but we are having fun by practicing a socially distanced Halloween! We played around with it to try and keep out trick-or-treaters safe while still keeping the candy launching at about 15 feet. We used PVC pipes and bungee cords for our catapult and PVC pipes and a hand weight for our trebuchet. Links to the base designs are here. Once we built the designs, we had fun experimenting with the different lengths of pipe and when we had them working the way we wanted, we decorated them for the big night.

You can find examples by clicking here or here.

Covey Denton is an award-winning science teacher at the Sallie B Howard School in Wilson, NC. She and her kids make regular appearances on WITN News at Sunrise.

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