Do you consider yourself to be the next Steven Hawking or Leonardo da Vinci? With the advent of the Internet, home-based science projects have become more accessible than ever (5 online science projects you can participate in). There’s no end of YouTube tutorials and budding chemistry teachers who are ready to guide you through a diverse range of experiments, all of which will leave you amazed and hopefully enlightened.
We’ve picked our favourite ten geeky science projects that are suitable for people of all ages, whether you want to broaden your own scientific understanding, or introduce your kids to the sciences.
Read on to find out more…
1) Magic Glow-in-the-Dark Mud
What are potatoes useful for? Eating, removing rust, desalinating soup – oh, and making glow-in-the-dark mud, obviously…
This process can make a mess, so it’s not one to try out unless you’re fully prepared, but if you want to amaze people with some cool gloop then watch the video below.
The process revolves around extracting the starch from potatoes, purifying it, and then adding a tonic water which glows under a UV light. If you’re doing this with young children you need to be careful they don’t eat the mix – it’s not dangerous in small doses, but it’s extremely unhealthy.
2) Home-made Lava Lamp
Are you pining for a bit of sixties glitz in your lounge? Try making your own lava lamp to recreate that rock-and-roll vibe!
Lava lamps were invented in 1963. They typically contain a coloured waxy substance inside a translucent liquid which melts and bubbles to the surface as it’s heated. At their peak in the late sixties around 7 million per year were being sold, and you can still buy them today.
They are surprisingly easy to make at home – you just need an empty plastic bottle, a cup of water, vegetable oil, Alka Seltzer (or similar), and food colouring. Once you’ve got all that, follow the instructions in the video below.
3) Make an Alien Egg
Are you aware of what osmosis is? In short, it is the process by which a solution on one side of a semi-permeable membrane interacts with a higher solute concentration on the other side of the membrane, equalising the concentration over time.
In the real-world, it’s responsible for a number of both positive and negative things, from cholera epidemics (6 sane resources for learning about Ebola and other outbreaks), and killing slugs (everyone poured salt on a slug as a kid, right?), to rehydrating dried fruits and replenishing our cells with water after exercise.
Using just an egg (with its predominantly chalk outer layer), a glass of vinegar (which is 4-8 percent acetic acid, with the rest being water), and corn syrup, you can watch two-directional osmosis happen before your eyes. Then make the egg blue, because why not?
While you’re at it, check out the rest of the Sci Guys video too – here’s another great one, the flaming “whoosh bottle”.
4) Make a Cloud at Home
If you live in the UK, Northern Europe, or the northern US/Canada, you’re probably wondering why you’d want to make yet more clouds. However, regardless of whether or not you’re lucky enough to live on a tropical beach year-round, this is an easy experiment that can give you a better understanding of our weather systems.
To make your own cloud in a bottle, all you need is pure alcohol, an empty plastic bottle, a cork, and a pump. I’ll let Benyamin guide your through the process in the video below.
5) Lemon Battery
Ever run out of phone battery (7 ways to boost mobile battery life) and been miles from a power source? Fear not, just use a lemon! Ok, you’d actually need an awful lot of lemons to recharge a phone, but a lemon or two can easily power an LED light or something of similar power.
As the video above explains, it’s a common misconception that electricity is actually held within the lemon. In practice, the lemon’s citric acid acts as an electrolyte – one of three essential components of any battery (along with a cathode and an anode). The lemon juice oxidises whatever anode you’re using (typically a zinc nail), and then the protons are free to flow down the wire to the cathode (typically a copper coin).
A similar experiment can be done using other types or fruit and even potatoes!
6) Pierce a Balloon Without it Popping
No, this isn’t a trick about piercing it before you blow it up, you really can piece an inflated balloon surprisingly easily using just a needle and some petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline).
Balloons are composed out of millions of invisible polymer chains. These polymer rubber chains exist in random loose clumps when in their un-stretched state, but become stretched to their limit on the side of inflated balloon. The solution, therefore, is to puncture the balloon at its base and its head, where the balloon is darker. At these points the balloon can absorb the needle between the polymer chains without braking them.
7) Rainbow in a Glass
This one is not only scientifically valuable, but if done correctly you can end up with a nice piece of art (where to find decorative artwork online?).
All you need to make your own rainbows is five glasses, four different types of food colouring, and a lot of sugar and water. The experiment works by using the sugar to change the density in each of the five glasses, adding water and colouring, then combining those densities together in the final glass to create the layered effect.
Hint – pour the liquid very slowly when you’re making the layers, or you’ll have to start again.
8) Heron’s Fountain
Heron’s Fountain is a hydraulic machine that was invented by the 1st century AD inventor, Heron of Alexandria. He was a man that was at the forefront of mathematics in Roman Egypt, and is also credited with having described the world’s first steam engine, and inventing the world’s first vending machine, wind-wheel, and force-pump.
At the time it amazed the citizens of the classical world, and it is still used in schools today as an introduction to the principles of hydraulics and pneumatics.
Using just plastic bottles, straws, plastic tubing, and glue, you can make your very own fountain. Just follow Arvind Gupta’s guide:
9) Make Your Own Carbon Dioxide
Carbon Dioxide is vital for life on our planet. It might sometimes get a bad press with global warming and greenhouse gases, but the truth is that without Carbon Dioxide there would be no trees, no plants, and no animals.
While we don’t suggest making CO2 on an industrial scale (what’s your carbon footprint?), you can make small amounts of the gas with a balloon, sugar, a plastic bottle, and a packet of yeast.
The balloon will fill itself with Carbon Dioxide when the yeast is submerged in a sugar solution. It works because yeast is a living organism, and when it’s fed sugar, CO2 is a by-product.
10) Table-top Hovercraft
We’d love to give you directions on how to build on ocean-faring hovercraft, but a) we don’t know how to, and b) it’d probably be outside of most of our reader’s budgets.
Instead, you’ll have to make do with a table-top hovercraft. All you need is an old CD, a balloon, and a lid from an old container of washing up liquid. You can make the CD float effortlessly over almost any smooth surface, as the balloon creates a very thin cushion of air on which the CD moves.
For a greater challenge, play around with different balloons and crafts to see if you can make it work on water.
Are you a scientist in the making? We’d love to hear from you. Have you tried our experiments? Were they all successful? Did you find any ways to improve them? Perhaps your have your own experiments to share with fellow readers?
Let us know in the comments below.
Image Credits: Crazy scientist Via Shutterstock