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Spooky Science: At-home experiments to try ahead of Halloween

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 9:52 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - You can get into the Halloween spirit with some spooky science experiments.

Ms. Covey Denton stopped by WITN News at Sunrise Thursday to demonstrate some Halloween-themed science experiments that you and your family can recreate at home. Be sure to watch the attached videos!

Descriptions from Ms. Denton:

Fizzing Bones:

What you need for this experiment: Baking soda and water (to make the paste), Red Food coloring, Vinegar or Lemon Juice

Combine the baking soda and water to make a thick paste. You can shape the bones by hand and either leave them to dry over several days or for longer-lasting bones, stick them in the freezer while they are still wet. This makes them more difficult to dissolve away. Color the vinegar with red food coloring to make “blood” if you’d like. It is a good idea to use eye protection so you don’t accidentally squirt vinegar into your eyes.

Baking soda and vinegar react chemically because one is a base and the other is an acid. Baking soda is a base called sodium bicarbonate. Vinegar is diluted acetic acid. When vinegar and baking soda are first mixed together, hydrogen ions in the vinegar react with the sodium and bicarbonate ions in the baking soda. This creates two new chemicals: carbonic acid and sodium acetate. As soon as it is formed, the carbonic acid immediately begins to decompose into water and carbon dioxide gas. This creates the bubbles and foam you see!

Glowing Boogers:

What you need for this experiment: Baby diaper, water, ziptop bag, highlighter marker, blacklight or UV light

Inside every diaper is a water-absorbing chemical superabsorbent polymer called sodium polyacrylate. A polymer is just a long chain of molecules-- poly means “many.” When superabsorbent polymers come into contact with water they act like giant sponges. They can soak up as much as 800 times their weight in water!

Inside a baby diaper, the cotton helps spread out the polymer and the liquid so the baby doesn’t have to sit on a blob of polymer. What we’ve done is shake out the polymer using a ziptop bag and mix it with some glowing water.

So why does it glow? Some materials glow after all the lights are turned off. This type of glow is called phosphorescence. A phosphorescent material absorbs and slowly re-emits energy in the form of light. In the dark, our ghost boogers won’t glow because they use a fluorescent highlighter, which only works in the presence of ultraviolet light. The ink used in the marker has a chemical property called fluorescence. Fluorescent materials absorb energy but instead of storing it, they emit it much more quickly. That is why it is best to view them under a UV or black light.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches:

Denton brought her pet cockroaches on set for Liz, Jim, and Lauren to hold.

As you’d expect, you can find these native to Madagascar. They can grow to be about 2.5 inches long. They are a vital part of the food chain as decomposers, eating dead and decaying plant and animal matter on the forest floor.

Unlike American cockroaches, these cockroaches cannot fly. Each Madagascar hissing cockroach has a unique hiss, which they make by forcing air out of small holes in their bodies called spiracles. They do this when upset or disturbed by other cockroaches.

My pet roaches seem to hiss a lot if it is going to rain for some reason-- they are our little barometers. Brownie, our male cockroach, has two large pronotal horns on his back. In the wild, they use these to fight other males for dominance, similar to the way deer battle with their antlers. Females are ovoviviparous, meaning that they give birth to live young that hatch from eggs inside the female’s body. The female carries the eggs/nymphs for 60 days, after which she gives birth to 30-60 young at one time. In one lifetime, a female can produce up to 750 young!

Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches can live 2-3 years in captivity, but we aren’t sure how long they live in the wild. Like all insects, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches have 6 legs and an exoskeleton. When they grow, they molt out of their old shell and emerge with a soft, fresh shell in place. This shell starts off bright white, but hardens and darkens after a few hours.

To keep them safely in their cage, most owners will put a layer of Vaseline around the top to prevent them from climbing out the lid.

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