Monday, January 11, 2016

It's a Winter Science Extravaganza with Snow, Polymers, and Arizona Midday!

Hey Phoenix! Did you catch us on Arizona Midday on NBC Channel 12? We took advantage of the brisk weather and brought in some winter science to the studio! You can find the experiments we did, as well as the explanations behind them, below! First we'll focus on growing your own crystals, then we'll talk about super absorbent polymers and how to make your own at home!

The Science of Snow

We don't get a lot of snow in the lower desert, and we certainly don't get it in Phoenix very often. However, we can still learn a lot about snow, ice, crystal formations, and make our own "snowballs" in our kitchen with some home chemistry experiments!

First, let's take a look at how snow forms. It starts high up in the sky when the temperatures of the atmosphere falls below freezing. As water vapor cools, it can occasionally latch onto an impurity, like a speck of dust. It will begin to freeze, forming an ice crystal. As the heavy ice crystal falls to the ground, it will build crystal structures on its arms to form a snowflake! The size, shape, and patterns of the snowflake all depend on the temperature, humidity, and changing wind patterns as it falls to the ground. The shape can change by the second as these variables change during its fall!

This chart is attributed to Caltech Physics Professor Kenneth Libbrecht

The formation of a snowflake, how the crystal itself forms and continues to grow, begins in a process called nucleation. This is when the ice grows off of a particle, and as water vapor sticks to it, the atoms form a continuation of the crystal structure as it freezes and the water evaporates.
You can mimic this process at home, with the growth of your very own crystals! You can build your own crystal snowflakes, hearts, or any other shape you'd like to make!


Note: Because you are working with a super saturated solution, you will need to dilute the solution before disposing of it! I dilute it with hot water, and then run hot tap water continuously down the drain for several minutes.

Materials Needed:

Borax (you can find this in your laundry aisle at the grocery store)
Pipe Cleaners
Clean jar (mason jar or other wide mouthed jar)
1/4 cup of hot tap water
Almost boiling water
String (Yarn, string, or nylon fishing line)

Coffee filter or newspaper


1. Heat a kettle or pot of water until it is almost boiling.

2. Add some hot tap water to the jar. This will allow the jar to come to a higher temperature without shattering.

3. Bend your pipe cleaner into any shape you like! Just make sure it won't touch the bottom or the sides of your container. Use a string or nylon fishing line to tie your shape to a pencil. Tape it to the pencil to secure it. (Note: String will allow a string of crystals to build along your shape. Fishing line will keep all the crystal growth to your pipe cleaner.)

4. When the water is almost to a boil, turn the heat down and SLOWLY add the water to the jar. You'll want to add enough to completely submerge your pipe cleaner. 

5. Add your Borax! You'll want to add 1 Tbsp at a time, stirring until it dissolves. Keep adding Borax and stirring until you can't dissolve any more into the water. We used about 10 Tbsp per 2 cups of water. You'll want to keep adding Borax and stirring, until you can no longer dissolve any into your solution. Once you start seeing Borax particles settling on the bottom of your cup, you've made your solution super saturated!

6. Put your pipe cleaner shape into the jar, with the pencil lying over the mouth. Cover the opening with a coffee filter or newspaper to keep out any dust particles!

7. Within an hour, you should start to see some action, leave it overnight and see what happens!


Another fun crystal growing experiment involves isolating Alum crystals and build your own diamond look-a-likes with them! Alum is the common name for Potassium Aluminum Sulfate, which in powder form, is traditionally used in baking, both in baking powder and in pickling (it's used to make pickles crispier!). You can read more about it here, and you can find its powdered form in the spice aisle of your grocery store.

The best way that I've found to grow these is to start with a seed. Then you can go from there, growing your beautiful Alum crystals!

Materials Needed: 
2 glass jars
1/2 cup of almost boiling water 
2 1/2 Tbsp of Alum powder 
Coffee filter or newspaper 
Clean spoon for stirring 
Nylon fishing string


1. Take your 1/2 cup of almost boiling water and pour it into a clean jar. Add your Alum powder to it. You'll want to do this slowly, 
1 Tbsp at a time, stirring to dissolve. When you can't dissolve any more Alum, you've made a super saturated solution! You'll know this happens when you see some of the powder sitting on the bottom of your jar when you've stopped stirring. 

2. Cover your jar with the coffee filter or newspaper and let it sit over night. By the next morning you should see some little crystals packed together on the bottom of you jar!

These are how the seed crystals looked after one night!

Picking your seed crystal and growing it 

3. Slowly pour the solution out into your other clean jar, being careful to filter out the crystals, as they will compete for growth with your seed crystal. 

4. Take a pair of tweezers and pick out the largest and best formed crystals. Then tie them to a length of nylon fishing line. If you use yarn or string, crystals will begin to form along that as well, which will take alum away from your seed crystal. 

5. Tape or tie the fishing string to a pencil, adjusting the length so that your crystal is suspended just above the bottom of your jar. Then lower your seed crystal into the new jar, with the super saturated solution.

Observe your crystal over the next few days. If you start to see crystal growth on the sides or bottom of your jar, remove your crystal, pour your solution into a clean jar, and lower your crystal in the solution. This way, you can ensure there are no other crystals competing for growth!

Does the temperature of the water affect your crystal growth?
Does the container you use to grow your crystal have an affect on its growth? Try a plastic cup, tupperware, an empty soup can, and a glass jar! Record your observations over the next few days and note any differences in your crystal growth.

By growing these awesome crystals at home, you can explore topics like winter science, chemistry, and geology! For more on the chemistry and geology aspects, as well as other crystal growth experiments (and a microscopic peek at nucleation!), check out our post on "A Look Inside The Crystal Shard".


Now that we've examined how snowflakes are formed and crystals are made, it's time to talk SNOW! On Arizona Midday, we used a super absorbent polymer, an "Instant Snow Powder". There are a lot of different names for these on the market, but they're all essentially the same thing. It's a non toxic powder called Sodium Polyacrylate that, when mixed with water, expands to 100 times its size in a super fast water absorption!

You can purchase these powders online, in hobby stores, or in your local teaching supply stores. However, since these polymers are a derivative of the super absorbent polymers found in baby diapers, you can experiment using those too!

Note: While this polymer is non toxic, is biodegradable, and doesn't break town with toxic byproducts, there are still some considerations to be made. Don't inhale this, eat it, or get it in your eyes! For disposal, please use the garbage, as large quantities of this gel (it is super absorbing after all), may clog your drain!
Materials Needed:

Disposable infant diapers
Plastic ziplock bag
Small glass jar, bowl, or container
Piece of paper


1. Working over your piece of paper, cut off the ends of the diaper, as well as the elastic sides. You're going to be working with the part of the diaper that absorbs wetness. Discard everything else.

2. You should now be able to see that the diaper has three layers. The two outer layer and a sort of cotton inner layer. Pull off the top layer.

3. Start peeling off the cotton layer, making sure to collect any particles that fall off on to your paper.

4. Place the cotton layer (or pieces) into your bag. Puff up the bag a bit and seal it. Then shake it until you've collected the polymer pieces at the bottom of the bag!

5. Take the cotton layer out of your bag and dump the powder into your container. Add the powder collected on your paper as well.
6. Add a splash of water and swirl it around, and see what happens! Try turning the cup over, does any water come out?


Does filtered water change the absorption rate and quality?What about temperature?
Use different liquids like juice, coffee, soda, and vinegar!
What happens if you add different particles to your solidified gel? Try making a few samples and stir salt, sugar, and baking soda into each of them. Make sure you keep one without any added materials to use as your control!

There is a lot of fun to be had in exploring the world around you! Science is a way of learning, it's a way of looking at the world, and it's an incredibly fun adventure. Start asking questions about the world and experiment to find your answers! See what others have done and compare your results! Have fun and as always...

Happy Exploring!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ridiculously Awesome Science Toys for Kids: Amazing Earth Puzzle Blocks!

With the holidays right around the corner, I've been on the lookout for great science toys and kits that my kids can play and learn with. Now that I have a baby in the house too, my eyes are shifting towards things that could be used now as well as in the years to come! During my perusing, I came across these wooden puzzle blocks and I immediately fell in love. Layers of the Earth, evolution and the fossil record, layers of the atmosphere and space, and volcanoes?! These are amazing!!! We needed to have these!

The Amazing Earth Puzzle Blocks!
Available on Uncommon Goods
Photo Courtesy of Uncommon Goods

Tiffany Ard, the creator of The Amazing Earth Puzzle Blocks and Nerdy Baby Artwork, was gracious enough to send me a set of these blocks so I could review them. What we found inside was a geek's dream of science awesomeness and whimsical play!

The first thing I was struck by when we got these, was just how fun the packaging was! Normally, I don't go nuts over the packaging of something, but this was brilliant. The box was super cute and the window cutout caused immediate excitement with my kiddo for what was in store!

Once we got over the cute packaging, it was time to dig into the blocks and start playing! The Amazing Earth Puzzle Blocks has six different puzzles with gorgeous designs painted in the wood! When each puzzle is put together, the blocks will form an image of fossils and the layers of the earth, the layers of the ocean, the layers of the atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, or river systems winding through the Earth!

Here, my daughter and I put together the "Volcanic Eruptions" puzzle. As we turned over each piece and put it in its place, we found ourselves having the most incredible discussions about what we were looking at! Geology, the rock cycle, land formations... all of these were suddenly brought to life as we examined our blocks!

Next up, we had to check out the Earth's (Amazing) Fossil Record puzzle. Oh my goodness, dinosaurs and evolution in block form? I was SO excited! The vivid drawings of dinosaurs and mammals, outlining the evolution of life as we know it, was so cool! As we put our blocks together, it really looked like fossils spread out in the layers of the Earth!

There are so many variations of these puzzles to work with, it's incredible! Every puzzle opens a new window into the sciences of the world. Each block offers a new learning opportunity! The diagrams are informative, the pictures are charming and fun, and each puzzle is peppered with cute pop culture references.
I started singing, "Bye, bye, Miss American Pie"
The great thing about these blocks, is that they're perfect for the wide range of ages in my house! For the baby, she'll have fun smacking them together and pointing out the different colors as she learns to identify them. We'll also have a great time talking about different animals, fossils, clouds, and space!

For my older child, she'll have a great time taking the pictures apart and trying to puzzle them back together again. She loves looking through the fossils and through the layers of the ocean, and is already looking up some of the oceanic zones so she can learn more about the animals who live there!

Some final thoughts on these puzzle blocks...

First, they are SERIOUSLY amazing. I am so in love with these! I mean, dinosaur blocks, voclano blocks, river systems, earthquakes, and space?! These are awesome! We're going to have an awesome time taking these puzzles apart, putting them back together, and learning about these concepts as we have fun! The baby, the kid, and I can all learn something from these and have a great time playing with them!

These puzzles can be tricky though. I'm so glad they came with an answer key. I'm not sure that we would have been able to figure them out as easily without it! The answer key made troubleshooting our solutions much easier, and ended up making the matching up of the pieces a game unto itself. Also included on the answer key is a link to an online PDF which contains some extra explanations behind some of the concepts, which made some of the harder concepts easier to understand.

Once again Tiffany Ard knocks it out of the park with geeky toys that are fantastically fun and filled with science awesomeness! Like her Most Ridiculously Excellent Coloring Book of Science, these blocks are charming, playful, and filled with so much science we'll get use out of them for years to come!

They're so much fun to play with, even the cat wants in on the action!


Friday, June 19, 2015

Giveaway: Heroic Cardboard Costumes with Crafteeo!

Building confidence and heroes, one cardboard step at a time!

Katie loves crafting, and she also loves costume making! After she made her own Wonder Woman costume, she has set herself a goal of making new costumes whenever the motivation strikes. Fortuanately for her, she didn't have to wait long as we were given an opportunity to check out these amazing warrior costume designs from Crafteeo!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Girl's Dreams of Becoming Wonder Woman!

A little girl with a super powered dream!

When I took my daughter on her first trip to the comic book store, she was blown away. As soon as she walked into Samurai Comics, her eyes grew as wide as saucers, as she scanned the walls and corridors filled with comic books! Those first steps brought her face to face with with a world of wonders, imagination, excitement, and adventure!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dress Up Like The Stars With Baby Teith!

This giveaway has been CLOSED! Please check out the stellar space clothes of Baby Teith, and the launching of their kickstarter, featuring astronaut skirts and dragon scale clothes!

Editoral 04_16_2015_-34.jpg
Photo by Joseph Maddon
My friend Tiffe Fermaint is an award winning runway fashion designer, and she makes the COOLEST clothes ever for kids! She and her husband Keith Walker started their company Baby Teith after their daughter was born, when she was trying to find awesome baby clothes, but was having trouble finding things that fit their tastes. So, Tiffe decided to start making them herself! And what are the tastes she couldn't find clothing to fit for?


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kitchen Chemistry: When Jello and Science Collide!

Candy you make yourself, from Japan!

Recently, my husband signed me up for a monthly snack box subscription from Japan. Every box contained strange and wonderful delights from shrimp flavored snack chips to cotton candy with pop rocks! One of the most interesting snacks was this Create-Your-Own dolphin candy, which came with ocean character molds, a scenic ocean background, and all of the ingredients and tools we would need to put it together! Essentially, we were given chemistry in a box, and our result would be candy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Liquid Gold Project - Monitoring Mother's Milk!

Monitoring mother's milk through ages and stages!

As some of you may know, our family of science awesomeness expanded over Christmas, as I welcomed our newest daughter Maizy Zinn into the world!

Hello World!

So of course, once I got settled into life as a parent of a newborn, I immediately started planning a science project...

While I was pregnant, I knew I would want to breastfeed after she was born. I knew that breast milk contains a ton of vital nutrients, and that the composition of the milk changes over time to meet the demands of a growing baby. I wondered... what would my milk look like under the microscope? It would be SO cool to see something that I made to feed my baby, so close like that! Further, I wondered, would I even be able to notice any changes if I looked at it again in the future?

Enter The Liquid Gold Project!