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Make your own Christmas gifts, with help from a little bit of science!

A chemical reaction that you can eat: honeycomb

All cooking is chemistry in action but my favourite edible experiment is honeycomb or cinder toffee. If you want to get all technical, this reaction is the thermal decomposition of sodium hydrogen carbonate to produce sodium carbonate, water and carbon dioxide gas. Basically, heat up baking soda and it gives off gas! If it is mixed up in some lovely gloopy melted sugar when this happens, you’ll get bubbly toffee which makes a great Christmas present for someone with a sweet tooth.

You will need: 200g caster sugar, 5tbsp golden syrup and 2tsp baking soda. Heat the sugar and syrup in a pan while stirring (this is definitely a grown up job!), when it is all melted and golden, remove from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. Watch as the chemical reaction happens and bubbles of carbon dioxide form in the toffee. Quickly pour onto a greased baking tray and wait for it to cool before testing out your tastebuds!

Fizzy bath bombs

These bath bombs don’t actually explode but they will fizz away when you put them in the bath. All the ingredients can be found in your kitchen/bathroom cabinet or can be bought in the supermarket (except citric acid which you can find in a chemist or homebrew section, I picked some up in Wilkos for 75p).

You will need:

Corn flour (2 tablespoons)

Citric acid (2 tablespoons)

Bicarbonate of soda (4 tablespoons)

Oil – coconut or olive are good (1 tablespoon)

Optional extras:

Food colouring

Fragranced oil/perfume (check it’s safe on skin)

A few dried flower petals (crushed)

 

What to do:

Mix the corn flour, citric acid and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl (and flower petals if using). If you want to use fragrance and/or colouring add a few drops to the oil in a plastic cup. Then add the oil slowly to the dry ingredients, mixing in between. You may need add a bit more oil if it doesn’t form a paste (not too much though). When it’s nicely mixed, shape it into balls and leave them to dry on greaseproof paper. They’ll be fully dry in a couple of days then store them in an airtight tub. Pop the balls into cupcake cases and people will think that you have made lovely, thoughtful gifts, not just had fun with science!

 

What’s going on?

The bicarbonate of soda and citric acid will form a chemical reaction, making lots of carbon dioxide gas. This gas makes the fizzing and bubbles that you see when the bomb is dropped into water. The chemicals can’t react together when they are dry so the fun only starts in the bath!

 


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We love to see you all enjoying science…that’s why we do science parties, camps and visit schools all year round! We like to see that ‘wow’ moment when kids see the awesomeness of science. However, experimenting shouldn’t stop when you leave a Fab Science event, that’s just the start! We’ve given you some ideas of activities you can try on our Home Science page and we know you have loads more ideas of your own. Please share them with us…and you could win a Fab Science goody bag!

You could take a photo or video of yourself trying out an experiment or visiting a science museum. You could send us a picture of something that you have created or an interesting find. You could even do an ‘elfie’ instead of a ‘selfie’ and get your elf doing experiments like Whizzy, the Fab Science Elf! Feel free to add captions or comments explaining what your selfie or elfie is all about.

We now have a Facebook group set up specially for sharing your science ideas, or tag @fab_science in your Instagram science selfies and use the hashtag #FabScienceSelfie.

To be in with a chance of winning, you’ll need to post your photos or videos by the end of December. If you prefer you can email them to selfie@fabscience.co.uk instead.

We can’t wait to see what you will think of!

Happy experimenting!

Terms and conditions:

  1. There will be one prize of a deluxe Fab Science goody bag and two runner up prizes of standard goody bags (shipping to UK addresses only).
  2. The Fab Science team will decide the winners based on creativity, fun, interest and scienciness (if it isn’t a word, it should be!).
  3. Any images or videos posted to the Fab Science Facebook group or using the #fabscience hashtag during this competition may be used by Fab Science for marketing purposes. Please make sure you have the consent of anyone in the photos (or parents/guardians) for them to be used in this way.
  4. Entries must be received by midnight on Monday 31st December 2018.
  5. You may enter as many times as you like!

 


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Eat your greens! No more sweets! Drink your milk! No fizzy drinks! Parents are always telling us what to eat but why? Investigate food packaging to find out which foods contain lots of sugar or plenty of good stuff like calcium and fibre. If you have access to the internet, you can experiment with making the healthiest and unhealthiest meals on the McDonalds nutrition calculator. Try out these investigations at home to see what happens if we don’t have enough calcium in our diet or eat too much sugar.

A trip to the dentist

Firstly, let’s look at what different drinks do to our teeth. If you can convince the tooth fairy to leave your teeth behind in the name of science, you can use real teeth. Otherwise, hard boiled eggs are a good substitute*. Pop each one in a plastic cup with a different drink; sugary cola, sugar-free cola, orange juice, fizzy water, tap water, anything you like. If you really want to see what acid does to your teeth, try putting one in vinegar! You might not think that you’d drink vinegar but bacteria in your mouth turn sugar to acid, so sugary things end up being acid in your mouth. This is why it is so important to brush your teeth! Leave the teeth or eggs in the drink for a week and then have a look for any changes.

Bendy bones

Want to see what happens to bones when they don’t have calcium in? Try bending a clean chicken bone to see how stiff it is, then pop it in vinegar for three days. Rinse it off and try bending it, has it gone all rubbery? Can you explain why?

*Note for super scientists: are eggs really a good substitute for teeth? Of course your teeth are much stronger than the eggshells but they are made of a similar material. The egg shells contain mainly calcium carbonate while tooth enamel is mainly calcium phosphate but both dissolve in acid.

You can find more cool experiments on our Home Science page…or book a Fab Scientist to visit your birthday party or school for lots of whizz-popping science fun!


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Lava lamps work by taking two substances that don’t mix (usually wax and water) and then heating it to make the ‘lava’ move around. This version doesn’t need wax or heat, just cooking oil, coloured water and a bit of chemistry.

You will need:

•       1 empty plastic bottle (500ml is a good size, still water bottles work best as they have a flat bottom!).

•       Water

•       Food colouring

•       Oil (any vegetable oil will do)

•       Fizzy tablets (soluble vitamin C, cheap versions from a pound shop are perfect!)

•       Small light or torch (pound shop good for this too!)

•       A tray to catch any spillages

First we need to assemble the lava lamp. Stand the bottle on the tray and half fill with water, pop a few drops of food colouring in until you’re happy with the colour. Next, pour in the oil, nearly up to the top (you might need a funnel and a grown-up for this bit!). Leave it to settle for a few minutes, when all the oil is at the top it is ready.

Now to make it move. Drop in a small piece of a fizzy tablet and watch what happens. You should see the bubbles carrying the coloured water up through the oil. You can stand the bottle (carefully!) on a small light or hold a torch underneath it for a real lava lamp effect.

If you want to keep it for another day you can put the lid on … but you MUST wait for it to stop fizzing first. If you put the lid on too soon gas will build up and it could be dangerous.

So how does this work? Oil and water won’t mix because oil is hydrophobic (this means it does NOT like water). The fizzy tablet reacts with the water to make carbon dioxide gas (just like the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda experiments). These bubbles of gas are less dense, basically lighter, than the oil so can bubble up to the top.

You can find lots of experiments to try on our Home Science page…or invite a Fab Scientist to your birthday party or school for more cool science fun!


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Oobleck is simple to make but the most messy fun you can have with your kitchen ingredients. All you need is some cornflour and water, about a cup of water mixed with a cup and a half of cornflour works well. You can add a bit of food colouring if you like. Green is slimetastic but go with any colours you fancy, pink and glittery can be lots of fun.

Now to experiment…

Try to decide if the Oobleck is a solid or a liquid. Try to press it hard, solid or liquid? Try pouring it, solid or liquid? It’s actually neither, it has a fancy scientific name of a ‘non-Newtonian fluid’, this means it can behave like either. Try stabbing it hard with a spoon, suddenly it’s solid, let the spoon rest on top and it sinks. Weird, huh? You can squeeze it into a ball, it feels all hard but as soon as you let go (or hand it to an unsuspecting victim!) it will collapse and go runny. Make up your own experiments, get your hands in it, get gooey and have fun. When you’re done, leave it to dry and keep for another day (don’t use it in the gravy though!).

Good vibrations

The Oobleck gets even more odd if you get them vibrating. I’ve put some on an old speaker (covered in clingfilm) and played some loud music through it. If you get the right sounds, the oobleck will start to jump and dance about. There is a video on our Facebook page if you want to see this without risking your speakers! There are also some amazing videos on YouTube of people who have taken the oobleck experimenting to the extreme by filling whole swimming pools with it!

So what’s going on?

The tiny bits of cornflour have jagged edges, when you press them together they get stuck and can’t move past each other, so you have a solid. If you stop pressing, they come unstuck and can flow again like a liquid.

There are lots more home science experiments to try on our Home Science page. Or invite a Fab Scientist to your birthday party or school and we’ll bring all the kit and take away the mess!


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Christmas has arrived in the Fab Science lab!

We have a handful of dates left this year for a last minute bit of festive science. Book a ‘naughty elf’ workshop as a Christmas treat for your class. They can try out some real chemistry to sort out Mrs Christmas’ mixed up biscuit mixes and turn their hand to forensics to identify the naughty elf!

1 workshop = £150

2 workshops = £250

3 workshops = £325

4 or 5 workshops = £400

…this works out at just £80 per class or £2.67 per child!

Each workshop is for one class and is usually an hour (but can be flexible to fit around the school day). Multiple workshops must be on same day to take advantage of discounted prices. Can be adapted to work for Key Stage 1 or 2. Prices are valid within 1 hour travel time of the Fab Science lab (Bishop’s Stortford), please get in touch for a quote if you’re further away.

Available December dates are: Tuesday 11th, Thursday 13th, Tuesday 18th and Thursday 20th.

Don’t forget we offer Fab workshops all year round. You can choose from curriculum-linked sessions for just one class or wow the whole school with an enrichment day such as Potty Potions – a Hogwarts-themed chemistry class. Every event is designed by a qualified science teacher to be 100% fun and 100% educational. Click here to go to our schools page for details.

If you would like to book a visit from Fab Science, either for our Christmas special or later in the year, please get in touch. Call 07799 624777 or email schools@fabscience.co.uk and we’ll talk you through the options.

Fab Science Elf with test tubes

 

 


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Check out any toy shop for a big selection of science kits and toys…there are so many to choose from! But which ones will keep your young scientists excited and engaged beyond Christmas or their birthday? Here are our top picks:

Hot Wires kit by John Adams

Hot Wires electronics set by John Adams – around £49.99

We love this kit! It is immediately accessible; anyone with no prior knowledge of electronics can make something that works within minutes of opening the box. There are so many more complex things to try as you build confidence and infinite possibilities to test out your own ideas. Everything fits together easily, making experimenting and rebuilding and (we particularly love this as we are geeks) all of the components have the circuit symbols on! Top tip: The John Adams website sells all the pieces as spares at very reasonable prices. Remember this when your budding electronic engineer loses the yellow spinner (you might want to buy two at a time). The kit itself can be found in most large toy shops or online retailers.

Virtuali-tee by Curiscope

Virtuali-tee T-shirt by Curiscope – £25

We use an adult-sized version of this T-shirt for our Brilliant Bodies camps and workshops and it goes down a storm! It is just a blue T-shirt with a funny pixelated skeleton pattern on the front, you might think it does not exactly look exciting. However, download the free app on your phone or tablet, point it at the T-shirt and you can see inside your own body! Of course, it’s not really x-ray vision but it looks pretty real; it’s 3D, it moves with your body and even has a beating heart. We hook it up to a projector when we are working with big groups but it’s just as effective on a small screen when you only need one or two people to be able to see it. You can buy direct from Curiscope or other online retailers.

Whizz Pop Bang - our favourite magazine

Whizz Pop Bang magazine – £39.99 annual subscription

OK, so this isn’t a toy but Whizz Pop Bang inspires our kids to try out more science experiments than any chemistry set we’ve ever bought! This magazine was created by the fabulous Jenny Inglis (who used to be a science presenter on Blue Peter) and it is full of interesting facts, experiments to try and interviews with real scientists. They don’t allow any advertising in the magazine, it doesn’t come with any plastic tat stuck to the front and it’s even delivered in a paper envelope. You can subscribe (if it’s for Christmas they often do offers that include a free book or similar) or buy individual copies for £3.99. Each month is a different theme so you may want to search through the back catalogue for titles that will really grab your young scientist’s imagination…Ploptastic Poo for example! Subscriptions and back issues are all available direct from Whizz Pop Bang.

Natural History Museum pocket microscope

Natural History Museum pocket microscope – £10 (+P&P)

Many of our activities at Fab Science events need us to see things that are very small, from bug-hunting to analysing fibres in Fab Forensics. Over time, we have spent a small fortune on various microscopes that didn’t quite fit the bill…until we found this one. We have ten of these and they have been thoroughly road-tested by our young Fab Scientists. They have been used indoors, outdoors, in mud, in bright light, in dim light, upside-down, sitting quietly, running around…and they are all still going! They will take a normal microscope slide but can also be used without the stage so you can put it straight onto the surface that you want to look at. The magnification isn’t huge at x40 but this is plenty to make everyday objects way more interesting. You can buy direct from the Natural History Museum website or usual online retailers.

 

Top trumps Chemical Elements

Chemical Elements Top Trumps – £6

If your child loves Top Trumps and loves science…this is a perfect stocking filler! The set was designed by the Royal Society for Chemistry so the numbers are real (no ‘Cool Ratings’ here) and players learn about the elements while enjoying the game. Each card even includes interesting facts as well the chemical symbol but is bright, colourful and fun.

You can buy direct from the RSC bookshop or usual retailers.

Fab Science party experiment kit

Make your own chemistry kit

We’ve tested a few chemistry kits and haven’t yet found one that really excites us. There is often too much plastic packaging and not enough actual stuff to do anything! We’re happy to be proven wrong though so do let us know if there’s one we’ve missed. If you have a little chemist at home who wants to turn your kitchen into a lab, here’s a list of basics to get them going.

  • Goggles – kids ones tend to be a bit rubbish, just buy grown up ones (from a hardware store) with an elasticated band that can be adjusted. Get a couple of pairs so they can experiment with a friend (or for when you want to join in)
  • Plastic test tubes (6-10) and a rack to put them in
  • Beakers
  • Small measuring jug
  • Plastic pipettes
  • Funnels
  • A big tray to catch any spills 🙂
  • Things from around the house such as old spoons, empty plastic bottles, balloons, squeezy bottles etc.

All of this can found in many places locally or online. Strangely, we’ve found the best supplier of reasonably priced test tubes, racks, beakers etc is Cream Supplies. They do ‘molecular gastronomy’ equipment but it’s perfect for kitchen science! For ideas on experiments to try out, see our ‘home science‘ pages.


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Potty Potions parties by Fab Science are perfect for young witches and wizards! Professor Fab (an actual witch) will visit your home or party venue and show you how to make colour-changing potions, levitation spells, expanding marshmallows, toothpaste for giants and magically inflating balloons. If you’re really lucky, you might even get to try your hand at Patronus training! With dry ice special effects and spells from Professor Fab’s magic book to make it a truly magical experience for Hogwarts fans.

You can ask your friends to don their robes (or come disguised as muggles) and have their wands at the ready. We don’t provide the decorations or food but we’re happy to share ideas from other potions parties that we’ve been to. We’ve seen amazing cakes such as this Golden Snitch by the very talented Caroline at Knebworth Cakes or you can make a very effective spell book from a simple rectangular cake. You might use a Marauder’s Map to hunt for the party bags or hide little Golden Snitches around the venue for guests to seek out while waiting for everyone to arrive. Lay out long tables for a feast in the Great Hall and use the sorting hat to work out the seating plan! Stock up on cut-price decorations after Halloween if you are planning a wizarding science party soon.

You’ll probably want to make some butterbeer; cream soda with a bit of vanilla ice cream to froth it up seems to be a popular recipe but you can make it any way you like. As long as you tell the guests it’s butterbeer…then it IS butterbeer! You can buy ‘genuine’ wizarding sweets such as every flavour beans and chocolate frogs online. However, it would only be a little cheat to use standard jelly beans and Freddos though! Make labels for jars, drinks or plates of food using the aptly named ‘Harry P’ font.

There are a million ideas for decorations, food, drink and games on Pinterest…but there’s only one Professor Fab! Contact us today for availability and a quote.

Mischief managed!

Back to party page


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So, you’ve had a letter home announcing there’s going to be a ‘Dress as a Scientist’ day and you’ve got no idea where to start! Of course, if you’ve got the time and your budget allows, you can pick up some great costumes from online retailers such as Amazon and Ebay. However, it’s more fun, economical and eco-friendly to make a great costume with things you’ve probably already got at home. Whether you want to go with the traditional ‘lab coat and goggles’ look or something a bit different, we’ve put together a few ideas to help.

What do people think when you say scientist? Lab coats of course! If you happen to have one great, you’re half way there! But if not, an oversized white shirt or T-shirt, perhaps from an older sibling, would do just as well. Once you have the lab coat, there are a couple of ways you can go with your scientist look. If you’re going for the professional look, wear the lab coat over a smart pair of trousers or a skirt and wear smart shoes. Add a tie or a bow tie and brush hair neatly to one side or for long hair, tie in a neat ponytail or bun. Now all you need to do is accessorise. Carry a clip board, pop a calculator and a pen and pencil in a top pocket and have your young scientist make an identity badge for themselves that you can make into a lanyard.

For a zanier looking scientist, wear bright or patterned clothes under the lab coat. Add a brightly coloured tie or bow tie and welly boots or brightly coloured trainers. You can make a wacky hair style with some hair gel or for long hair, you can tie it in high bunches with a pencil sticking out behind the ear. A pair of rubber gloves and some goggles go well with this look and depending on how frazzled or crazy they want to look, you could add some smudges of black face paint to give the impression an experiment has gone wrong! Get them to think of a crazy name for themselves and make a name badge. And lastly, have a few things sticking out of pockets; a stopwatch, some straws, a marker pen, a test tube, anything really! The great thing about a wacky scientist look is you can be as crazy as you like!

Although a lab coat is the most obvious way to identify a scientist, actually most scientists look pretty ordinary. Many go about their work in everyday clothes but that wouldn’t make for a very exciting dressing up day! However, you don’t need a lab coat to dress as a scientist; carry a cuddly dolphin to be a marine biologist, wear a boiler suit to be a forensic scientist or dress in khaki to be an archaeologist. Have a look what you have in your dressing up box already; remember astronauts are scientists and many doctors are too. Or how about having a think about some famous scientists and dressing up as one of them? Got a Victorian dress lying about after ‘Dress as a Victorian’ day? A perfect costume to be Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer! Turn them into Dian Fossey, a primatologist who studied mountain gorillas, by having them wear shorts, a shirt, walking boots, having binoculars round their neck and holding a cuddly gorilla. Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, can be created with a smart suit and either carrying a light bulb or making one out of paper mache and a balloon. For Isaac Newton, wear a long grey wig and carry an apple! For Galileo, astronomer, wear a long dark robe with a belt tied in the middle and carry a telescope. Have fun asking your friends to work out which scientist you are!

We hope we’ve given you some useful tips to make it fun and stress free to put a costume together. We’d really love to see pictures of your young scientists in their outfits, you can share with us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and show us how creative you’ve been!


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Happy Ada Lovelace Day, Fab Scientists!

Today is a day to celebrate inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). By celebrating the achievements of these women and increasing their visibility, future generations of young women will hopefully be inspired to pursue careers in these areas. There are events organised around the world in schools, universities, science centres and museums to put the spotlight on today’s female scientists. 

So, who was Ada Lovelace and what did she do to get her own day? Ada was born in London in 1815 and was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron. Ada barely knew her father, he abandoned her when she was just a month old and her mother, although not affectionate to her daughter, insisted upon Ada being privately tutored to the highest possible level. At age 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge (a position once held by Isaac Newton and more recently by Stephen Hawking) and this meeting changed the course of Ada’s life. Babbage was working on a calculating machine which he called the difference engine and Ada was immediately intrigued.  She was determined to understand how the difference engine worked, so she asked Babbage for the engine’s blueprints.

She married and had 3 children and developed a strong friendship with Mary Somerville, a leading mathematician of her time. She pursued an interest in advanced mathematics and all the while kept Babbage’s difference engine at the forefront of her mind. Babbage in the meantime had moved on to the analytical engine, which would be capable of far more sophisticated calculations than the difference engine. Ada studied his work along with that of engineer Luigi Menabrea and wrote an extensive paper on the analytical engine. In her paper, she included the world’s first published computer program, or algorithm, and hence she is often cited as the world’s first computer programmer. Ada Lovelace broke new ground in computing, identifying an entirely new concept. She identified through years of study that an analytical engine could go beyond numbers, not just a calculator, but a machine that could contribute to other areas of human endeavour, for example composing music. And so, the first concept of a modern computer was born!

Ada passed away in 1851 at the very young age of 36 but what she achieved in her short lifetime was quite incredible, particularly given the limited education opportunities available to women at the time. She contributed to work so ahead of its time, it would take another 100 years to be fully understood! She nurtured her thirst for knowledge and understanding and paved the way for future female scientists to develop in their chosen field.

Ada is one of many amazing female scientists such as  Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity; Rosalind Franklin who made critical contributions to the understanding of molecular structures of DNA; Grace Hopper, one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer; Rachel Carson, a marine biologist credited with advancing the global environmental movement; Dian Fossey, a primatologist who undertook an extensive study of mountain gorillas; Vera Rubin, an astronomer who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates; Gerty Cory, the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology. Any of these or many others could have had this day named for them, they are all inspirational to the next generation of girls who may follow them into the awesomeness of science.

So here’s to Ada, all the women in STEM and all the girls just waiting to show us what they’ve got. We can’t wait to see who we’ll be celebrating on Ada Lovelace Day in the future!

Ada Lovelace quote

If you would like to inspire your budding scientists (girls and boys!), book them into our holiday science camps, give them a birthday party that they’ll remember forever or ask your school about getting a visit from Fab Science.