Candy Experiments on Brazilian TV

Candy experiments just received international recognition, as part of a Brazilian documentary about the USA Science and Engineering Festival.  Noticing the popularity of our booth, the interviewer came over to ask us about what we were doing.  My daughter and I both enjoyed being interviewed, but wondered if we would ever get to see the show.  Thanks to a Brazilian dad who saw the show and sent us the link, we finally get to see it ourselves.

You can watch the show at the Globonews website.  Our segment is in the second video, starting at about 1:20.  Lucky that we were near the beginning!

Here's the rest of the email from the Brazilian dad:

"I saw your experiments on TV here in Brazil. I'll try to reproduce some of your suggestions to my son.  My son  is 5 years old, he is a candy lover and also a science enthusiastic, just like most kids I guess. So your initiative will fulfill his expectations :-)  Great idea from you."

We're so pleased that candy experiments have crossed the border! 

Candy Cane Countdown #1: Rubber Bandy Canes

When we heated our candy canes, we expected them to bend.  We didn't expect them to stretch--but some did.  Here's how you can stretch one brand of candy canes like rubber bands.

1. Preheat the oven to 250 F and line a pan with foil (in case the candy cane melts too much.)
2.  Place an unwrapped Bobs brand candy cane in the oven on a pan.
3.  Wait about 5 minutes until the candy cane is warm but not yet melting.
4.  Using tongs, pick up the candy cane and break it apart.  Does the middle stretch?

Candy Experiments at Sensational Homeschooling

My guest blog about holiday candy experiments just went up at  Since my readers can no longer access that site, here's a recap of the article:

At, we experiment with all sorts of candy to learn science lessons about melting, density, colored dyes, and ingredients.  This month we looked for ways to use up some of our holiday candy and found these two experiments you can try at home:

Many candy colors are made by mixing dyes.  You can separate these dyes with chromatography.  While brown M&Ms are the most fun to separate (they form a rainbow of color), M&M green also separates.

To try chromatography with your green holiday M&Ms:
1. Cut a rectangle of coffee filter paper (about 4" x 2").
2.  Wet a green M&M and dab a spot of color onto the paper, about one inch from the bottom.  
3.  Fill a glass with 1/2 inch of water.
4.  Fold the paper vertically.  Then stand it in the glass, with the color spot above the waterline.  (If the paper doesn't stand up, fold the top over the edge of the glass, making sure the paper still touches the water.) 
5.  Wait a few minutes as water seeps up the paper.  The water will dissolve the color spot and separate it into faint streaks of yellow and blue, with the blue on top.   

Candy Canes vs. Sugar
Candy canes, which are made from a mixture of heated sugar and corn syrup, melt at a lower temperature than table sugar.  Here's how you can see for yourself:

1.  Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat your oven to 250 F.
2.  Place a candy cane and a sugar lump on the baking sheet.
3.  Heat in oven for 5-10 minutes.  What happens to the candy cane?  What happens to the sugar?

Candy Cane Shapes
Warm candy cane is pliable, or easy to bend.  In the factory, straight sticks of warm candy are bent into curved candy canes, before they harden and cool.  You can turn candy canes into other fun shapes by doing this:

1.  Take a square of foil.  Fold it several times lengthwise to make a long strip.
2.  Shape your strip into a funny shape.  You can fold it accordion-style to make a zig-zag, curve it gently up and down into S-shapes, or raise the edges up to form a C.
3.  Lay the candy cane on top of the foil.  Place in oven on baking sheet.
4.  Wait several minutes.  Does your candy cane melt into the shape of the foil? 
(Note: since candy canes vary in size and ingredients, they will melt at different speeds. Check every few minutes; candy canes melted too long will turn into bubbling puddles.)

This holiday season, don't feel overwhelmed by too many holiday treats. Turn them into candy experiments.  Soon the whole family--even you--will be begging for more.

Candy Cane Countdown #2: Mutant Candy Canes

A candy cane doesn't start out as a cane.  It starts out as a straight candy cane that's bent into shape while it's still warm. * You too can form candy canes into funny shapes.  Here's how:

1.  Preheat your oven to 250 F and line a baking sheet with tinfoil.
2.  Fold a square of tinfoil into a rectangular strip about 3 inches wide (i.e. wider than the candy cane.)  Then fold it into an interesting shape, like a zigzag, an S-curve, a bowl, or anything you like.
3.  Place your unwrapped candy cane on top of the foil shape, put it on the pan, and heat in the oven for 5-10 minutes.**  Check frequently until the candy cane has softens and sinks onto the mold.

Did you make a mutant candy cane?

Above: candy cane on foil shape
Below: same candy cane

 Above: candy cane on foil shape
Below: same candy cane

Below: candy cane on zig-zag foil

*See Candy Canes at, published by the National Confectioner's Association.
**Melting times vary based on candy cane size.

Candy Cane Countdown #3: Bubbling Candy Canes

Want to turn your candy cane into a bubbling puddle?  Try this.

A candy cane melted in the oven, then cooled and removed from foil.

1. Turn up the oven to 300 F, and put an unwrapped candy cane on a foil-lined pan.
2.  Leave the candy cane in the oven for 5-10 minutes.*
3.  After several minutes, your candy cane will melt into a bubbling pile of goo.  (Don't touch--it's HOT!)  Can you still see stripes?

*Melting times vary based on the size of the candy cane.

Candy Cane Countdown

The other day my son was licking a candy cane.  "Why does the red stripe turn pink?" he asked.  As I explained that the red dye had thinned out to show the white beneath, I was reminded how everyday questions can lead to all sorts of interesting lessons--and candy experiments.

We've been having lots of fun getting new experiments ready for the holiday season, like Mutant Candy Canes, Bubbling Candy Canes, and Rubber Bandy Canes. Check back over the next few days to see them yourself!

To get in the candy cane spirit, check out these web pages from the National Confectioner's Association:
--How Candy Canes are Made
--Fun Facts about Candy Canes

Sticky Candy

In which my son mashes warm candy into his own invented sticky stew--and becomes my competition!

Braiding Candy Experiments

My daughter came up with a new candy experiment: braiding Twizzlers.  She separates out the strands, then braids them together for decorations.  Since she wanted to explain her craft to the world, here's the video.

Here's the finished product.

Candy Experiments To Be Used on

For the record, I found them before they found me.

It was last spring that I stumbled onto the candy-eating pumpkin on, a calorie-counting game.  Even though I knew it was most appropriate for Halloween, it was too fun to save, so I blogged about it right away.  I was impressed that the website was funded by a nonprofit dedicated to children's heath, instead of corporate sponsors, and that their activities were both entertaining and educational.

Now has found candy experiments. 

Since candy experiments fit so well into the mission and methods, will soon be publishing ten candy experiments on their website.  I'll be excited to see how they turn out.

Especially if they put the experiments near the candy-eating pumpkin.

More Pictures from DC

These photos were taken by the official photographers of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.  Since they just put the link up, I thought I'd share.  Here are a few highlights:

--Check out this picture to see how much sugar is in a bottle of orange soda (count the Life Savers on the white scale in the bottom right corner).  On the right you can see the chromatography setup--each clothespin held a paper in the water.  (At home you can just fold the paper to stand it up, fold the top of the paper over the lip of the cup, or attach it to a pencil laid over the top; this was mass-production chromatography.
--This picture shows my daughter demonstrating how sour Warheads are.  She's only 7 1/2, but she worked at the booth as many hours as I did.

Candy Experiment Tips

As families out on the internet report on their candy experiments, I'm learning new things myself!  For instance:

--one mom covers her baking sheet with tinfoil before melting candy on it.  Why didn't I think of that?  It would have saved me hours of scrubbing.
--one mom had a hard time pouring the density rainbow over the spoon, so she used a syringe instead.  Perfect rainbow.
--Monitor your candy as you melt it--if your microwave is hotter than mine, you definitely don't want to microwave a Starburst for a whole minute.

Thanks for sharing your ideas, and for helping me improve candy experiments.

Freezing Fun

Here's a candy experiments report from one reader, whose son Daniel and daughter Naomi got creative with the freezer:

"We found your site last year, and we love our new tradition of doing experiments on our Halloween candy! I wanted to share one our kids came up with. Perhaps it might be something others would like to do. We took the water experiments one step further and froze our candy. I've attached three pictures as examples. We used a cup and a small bowl for water with Nerds in it. You will see that they partially  dissolved and mixed with the water to different degrees depending on the size of the container. The third item used Multi-colored Lemonheads in a small bowl. They partially dissolved as well, and left a bubble pattern on the bottom.  [See her pictures below.]

For the experiment, we filled the containers with water, dumped the candy in, then immediately put them in the freezer. Depending on the size of the container, there were different effects. I am assuming that this is due to the time it takes to freeze - less or more time for the candy to change state. It might be interesting to try with milk or juice as well. And of course, different kinds of candy. Larger pieces, like jawbreakers or gumballs, would be interesting.

Thanks for your site!"

What experiments is your family coming up with?  Let us know!

 Candy Nerds in frozen water  1

Candy Nerds in frozen water 2 

Sour Lemonheads in frozen water

New Density Rainbow Video

Several people, including my own mother, have mentioned that the density rainbow is hard to do.  I hope this video will be helpful.


One mother emailed to say that at their recent candy experiments party, they stretched Laffy Taffy to a length of 1.75 yards!  My kids and I had to try it.  I wasn't sure how to stretch the candy that far, so I rolled it instead into a strand about 2 1/2 feet long (the length of my cutting board). 

When I was a child I made taffy with my grandmother once--the last step was to butter our hands and stretch it out.  It's funny to think that this reader is just treating taffy as it's supposed to be treated.

Wonder what other kinds of candy you can stretch that far?  We will definitely have to investigate this further.

DC photos

Memories from the USA Science and Engineering Festival:

The booth, located on Pennsylvania Avenue near Freedom Plaza

Experiments with kids, including Chromatography and Find Hidden Candy 

The crowd--we were swamped nearly every second

The Sour Bubble Acid Test with Warheads

Radio Interview

I've been interviewed about candy experiments for a radio show on how to use up Halloween candy.  It will air on New York station WCBS (880 AM) several times this Sunday.

If you'd like to listen online, use the link below and click the Listen Live button.

Let me know if you hear it!

Candy Lab or Perfumery?

From a candy experiments party with 7-year-old girls:
"Would you like to smell my green apple fragrance?"
"I call this one Christmas time!"
"This one smells like pancakes."
"I got smelling soup up my nose!"  (Must have gotten too close to her candy experiment water.)

I love candy experiments because kids come up with so many creative experiments on their own. I never would have thought of mixing for smells.


Candy melted during a recent candy experiment session.  We have a melted Zotz (top left), a melted Milky Way (top right), a blue M&M (left), a caramel apple lollipop (top center) a yellow Valentine's SweetHeart, melted Starburst and Laffy Taffy (left), and Pixy Stix (bottom right).  The Pixy Stix appeared unmelted at first glance, but when we poked them we found that many of the grains had melted together into a blob.

As one girl put it, looking at the melted candy puddles, "The heart's the winner!"

Acid Testing

Some people have asked me how many bubbles you can really see during the acid test, so I've posted links to my acid test Youtube videos on the Acid Test experiment page.  (Scroll down to the bottom.)

Candy Professor Spotlights

Since three different people sent me links to a New York Times article about Dr. Samira Kawash, who studies the history and cultural concepts of candy, I had to go look at her blog at  What a trove of interesting candy information!

Dr. Kawash has also just put up a post about candy experiments.  Thanks for helping to share the idea!

Experiment Cards

Just posted new sets of experiment cards, with one experiment on each page.  Now, if you're only passing out one kind of Halloween candy, you only need to print one set of cards to go with it.

USA Science Festival by the numbers

At the Candy Experiments booth:
*pounds of baking soda used for the Sour Bubble (Acid) Test: 5
*bags of marshmallows emptied: 15
*gallons water used: 21 1/2
*number of grams of sugar in a bottle of orange soda: 71
*number of rolls of Smarties to equal 71 grams of sugar: 10
*number of us interviewed for Brazilian TV: 2
*number of volunteers swamped on Sunday, when we had to set up an extra mini-booth in the street: 7
*baby wipes passed out for cleaning hands: 1000
*number of children who visited the booth: uncountable!

Midway Through the USA Science and Engineering Fair

*Plenty of Warheads for the Sour Bubble Test
*Plenty of baby wipes (for scrubbing hands)
*Plenty of visitors!

We had an especially successful day thanks to our volunteers who manned our booth, and the visitors who stopped by to learn about candy experiments.  We appreciate them all, and hope they had fun!

If you're in the DC area and you didn't make it today, there's still Sunday.  Join us for the Sour Bubble Test, M&M Rainbow, and Find Hidden Candy, as well as testing paper airplanes in the NASA wind tunnel, superconductors, robot soccer, and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Festival Preparation

Thanks to Terri at A+ Promotions for helping us get our t-shirts printed for the festival.  They look great, and that's one more festival preparation item to cross off the list.

Other things on our list:
--buy 24 bags of marshmallows, 5 lb baking soda, and 5 lb cornstarch
--order 50 gallons of water
--cut out 4000 chromatography papers
--arrange delivery of 100 pounds of WarHeads
--separate the brown M&Ms out of a 5 lb bag
--find 4 5-gallon buckets in D.C. (since we don't want to carry them in suitcases!)

Don't you want to come see what we're doing with it all?  Join us this weekend in D.C.  Booth hours will be 10 am to 5:30 pm Saturday and Sunday.

Candy Tax

Washington State recently expanded their sales tax to bottled water, soft drinks, and candy.  Now the American Beverage Association has spent over $14 million on ads in an attempt to pass Initiative 1107, repealing the tax.  But should we?

The ads point out the disparity between similar items that are taxed or untaxed.  It's true that the disparities get ridiculous when Snickers bars are taxed while Twix bars are exempt.  (The reason?  Foods containing flour are not defined as candy.*)  But look at some of items whose status the ads question:

--"Yogurt" covered raisins:  According to the USDA, yogurt confectioner's coating is 62% sugar.
--Fruit Snacks: most fruit snacks are made of corn syrup, sugar, water, and gelatin--the same recipe as gummy worms.
--Honey Roasted Peanuts: According the Planter's website, 28 g of peanuts contain 2 g of added sugar.  They're covered in sugar, honey, and corn syrup--i.e. candy.

The problem isn't that Washington State is mistaking these items for candy.  It's that the rest of us have forgotten what's candy and what isn't.  And that, in consequence, we might eat a lot more of it than we think we do.

*The official definition of candy, as printed in the Seattle Times: "Any preparation of sugar, honey or other natural or artificial sweeteners in combination with chocolate, fruits, nuts or other ingredients or flavorings in the forms of bars, drops, or pieces. The term candy does not include any preparation containing flour as an ingredient."

Halloween Bouquets and Other Candy Tips

You know how to turn Halloween candy into science experiments.  But did you know you can also use it in family games, donate it to local food banks, or glue it to paper flowers for beautiful Halloween bouquets? 

When our family made our own bouquet, we learned a few things:
--Use glue gun, not Elmers, if possible.  Elmer's glue takes hours to set and dissolves some of the candy. 
--Use hard candy.  Soft candy can slide right off your flower.
--To make a cone-shaped flower, cut a slit in paper circle, and pull one end under the other until the flower is the shape you want.  Fasten with tape.
Need more ideas?  Check out "How to Handle Halloween Candy" in the October issue of ParentMap.

Green Halloween's National Costume Swap Day

Recently I met the founder of Green Halloween and discussed our common goals.  The Green Halloween website has ideas for celebrating Halloween with less money, less waste, and even less candy.  One of their great money-saving ideas is National Costume Swap Day this Saturday, in which families can meet up and exchange costumes for free.

If you need ideas for saving money on Halloween or passing out something other than candy, check out Green Halloween.

Thanks to Dr. Walter Bowyer and Dr. Frost Steele

It's very difficult to write about science without input from experts.  For that reason, I'd like to acknowledge Dr. Walter Bowyer, a professor of chemsitry at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who kindly agreed to speak with me about the chemistry of candy experiments for an article that had no guarantee of acceptance.  The initial interview lasted over an hour, with him patiently explaining sour taste, the chemistry of acid-base reactions, and the mechanics of color separation in chromatography, and he has since been a faithful email correspondent answering some very odd questions. 

Dr. Frost Steele of BYU's nutrition department was also very helpful in answering my questions about nutrition and oil in candy.

Their information appeared in the article "Candy Secrets," which was published in the October issue of Highlights. 

Festival organizer Larry Bock fears USA is falling behind in science

I just received an email from Larry Bock, organizer of the upcoming USA Science and Engineering Festival.  He is very concerned about the state of science education in this country, and state the following:

"In a nutshell:
-- according to Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley, by the end of 2010 (just months from now) 90% of the world's scientists and engineers with advanced degrees will live in Asia.
-- 80% of people being trained in the advanced physical sciences in the United States are from abroad.
-- because the opportunities are now greater abroad, we are no longer retaining them in the USA.
-- If we do not turn this trend around, we will have outsourced innovation.
And once we have outsourced innovation, our country's ability to compete will be over.  My concern over this is so great that I have devoted the past year and a half (7 days a week 10 hours a day)  to organizing this Science Festival."

Mr. Bock hopes that the festival in Washington D.C., with smaller collaborative festivals across the country, will help invigorate new interest in science in this country.  That's why we're participating as well.  Maybe one of the children who tries candy experiments will go on to major in chemistry.  And maybe all of the people who try candy experiments will leave excited to try new things, to pursue answers when they wonder "What if...?"

To learn more about events at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, or to look up participating events in your own area, check out their website.  We'll be there Oct 23-24 on Pennsylvania Avenue near Freedom Plaza.

Candy Experiments in Highlights!

Just got our October issue of Highlights, with my candy experiments article inside.  My daughter was especially impressed to see the "Candy Secrets" teaser on the cover.  "They must have really liked it!" she exclaimed.

To find out more about why acid reacts with baking soda, why candy contains oil, and why chromatography separates colors, check out pages 22-23 on the October issue of Highlights.  They also have their own version of the Candy Sparks experiment online.

Candy Experiments Highlighted at USA Science and Engineering Festival

The USA Science and Engineering Festival has chosen Candy Experiments for their "Whiz, Pop, Bang" Chemistry Track.  This and three other booths will be recommended to kids who want to try exciting chemistry activities.  The festival will be held October 23-24 at the National Mall.

Learn more at USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo Tracks.

Candy Counting Game

Here's a game I didn't have room to describe in my ParentMap article on using up Halloween candy.  I've done this with my children ages 4-6.

Give two players ten pieces each.  The first player pushes some onto the table and names a number.  The second player adds pieces to reach the number, then takes some away and calls out a new number for the first player to reach.

Parents Magazine Loves Candy Experiments

Yes, it's true.  Parents Magazine asked me for some candy experiment ideas to be featured in an upcoming "Play With Your Food" column.  It's a perfect fit, since playing with candy is what we do.

They were particularly interested in the colorful Skittles Density Rainbow.  Wonder if they'll print some good photos?  Guess we'll all find out in November.

Warheads in Action

Here's how Warheads react to baking soda water.  The more Warheads you use, the more bubbles you'll see.

Impact Candy Sponsors Candy Experiments

Impact Candy is providing Warheads for the Candy Experiments booth at the USA Science and Engineering Fair Washington, D.C.  Find us there October 23-24 on Pennsylvania Avenue near Freedom Plaza.

Warheads make great acid-test candy, since they contain so much acid.  Drop one in baking soda water and watch the bubbles rise.

Jelly Belly Beans

I got an email from a mom planning a Jelly Belly birthday party. Did I have any ideas for Jelly Belly experiments? I rushed out to buy a bag; here are my suggestions:

1) Floating Letters
The Jelly Belly logos float, just like M&M m's and Skittles s's. Leave the jelly beans in water, logo side up, for a few minutes and see if the logos peel off. The warmer the water, the faster it goes.

2) Chromotography
Jelly Belly chromatography should be really fun, but since I had to use paper towels (I'm out of coffee filter paper) I didn't get the best results. Green Apple separated nicely into blue and yellow, and the red-brown Dr. Pepper had a nice streak of red separate out from the rest of the dye. Black didn't separate with my materials, but I'll try it again with coffee filter paper, since we've had great luck with black jelly beans lately.

3) Acid Test
Regular Jelly Bellies, it turns out, are not very sour. Only dissolved Green Apple beans gave me any visible bubbles when I poured in the baking soda. I'll try it again when I can get some Jelly Belly Sours; I bet those'll work great.

Nutrition Labels Online

Still on the quest to understand sugar in food, today I checked out the USDA National Nutrient Database. It has nutrition information for hundreds of branded and generic foods, although not much candy (too bad for me!) I learned about the sugar content in canned white beans (0.29%), white wheat flour (0.27-0.92%), yogurt candy coating (63%), Twizzlers Strawberry Twists (39.64%), Post Golden Crisp cereal (53.9%), and Kellogg's Rice Krispies Treats cereal (31%). Kind of makes you wonder which one's actually the candy.

Want to try the fun yourself? Here's the link:

More Hidden Candy

My brother-in-law read me all the cereal labels in his kitchen today.  Check these out:

Brand Serving Size Sugar per Serving Percent Sugar Candy Equivalent
Bran Flakes (Price Right) 29 g 5 g 17 % 1 mint
Honey Bunches of Oats 29 g 5 g 17% 1 mint
Cinnamon Life 32 g 8 g 25 % 2 large wintergreen Life Savers
Tutti Frutti (Malt-O-Meal) 32 g 15 g 47% 3 mints
Golden Crisp 27 g 14 g 52 % 21 Altoids

Golden Crisp? Sounds like candy all by itself.

Finding Hidden Candy

I’ve been weighing candy and checking labels to prepare our “Find Hidden Candy” display at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the surprises I’ve found:

Brand Serving Size Sugar per Serving Percent Sugar Candy Equivalent
Oatmeal Squares 58 g
(1 cup)
10 g 17% 2 striped starlight mints
Last July Organic Chocolate Cookies 43 g
(4 cookies)
12 g 28% 18 Altoids
Honey Maid honey graham crackers 31 g
(2 full sheets)
8 g 26% 2 large wintergreen Life Savers
Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce 34 g
(2 TBSP)
9 g 26% 1 Life Saver, 1 starlight mint

Graham crackers have as much sugar as chocolate cookies? I may as well eat wheat bread with honey instead. Or have my sugar for dessert.

Candy Color Separation Tests

My daughter tried new kinds of candy for color separation. Purple jelly beans separated into pink with a slight tinge of blue around the edges, and one blue Smartie gave us a blue spot with yellow smudges. Interesting. She even managed to get a good dye sample from a blue Twizzler, though it did not separate much.

Posted by Picasa

Safety masks for candy experiments?

Recently we heard from the organizers of the USA Science and Engineering Fair, at which we will be presenting in October, that the NPS would require us to use goggles, safety masks, and gloves for all our experiments.  Like testing sour candy for acid with baking soda, squashing marshmallows, separating dyes, and finding hidden candy.  "It's just candy," I tried to explain.  "It's not explosive. It's not even toxic. You eat it."  But the department strictures couldn't be waived. Buereaucrats.

Thankfully, the sympathetic USASEF organizers are working solve the problem.  We'll wait to hear back from them.  In the meantime, I encourage everybody to keep doing candy experiments at home.  Even without safety masks.

Mad Scientists

I tried to be a good mom and take my kids to the Mad Scientists presentation at the local library, but parking was a nightmare. After wasting 20 minutes driving around the parking garage and sitting behind cars waiting for slots, we gave up and came home. So we just became mad scientists ourselves, instead.

Independent Research

At school a few days ago, one of my daughter's friend had an announcement for me: "I did my own candy experiment!" Apparently he dissolved a lollipop.

Glad I had some expertise in this area, I asked him if the lollipop stick unrolled. He wasn't sure. More research coming up!

Sugar and teeth

Doing so many candy experiments has led me to ask questions about the chemistry of tooth decay. I've learned that sugar contributes to tooth decay as long as it's on the teeth, but so can raisins, crackers, or anything else that the tooth-inhabiting bacteria digest and turn into acid.

When I got my teeth cleaned last week, the dental hygenist had a new fact for me. Eating single jelly bean can cause as much tooth decay as eating a pound of sugar--as long as it's on your teeth the same amount of time. So remember to brush!

Down the drain

Reading online about how to unclog my blocked drain, I found a suggestion to pour down baking soda and vinegar. The resulting bubbles are supposed to loosen clogs.

Wonder what would happen if I used Warheads instead?

And it's playtime

My daughter had friends over for a playdate a few days ago. "What do you want to do?" I asked them. "Draw pictures, play games, play outside?"

The answer was unanimous. "Candy experiments!"

So they experimented for 45 minutes. Didn't even eat the candy. The only drawback? A very sticky table.

Easter Candy Perfume

7-year-olds investigating Easter candy fragrance:

-"I'm making smell-good soup."
-"Can you be our judge for whose soup smells better?"
-"I'm making perfume for the Easter bunny!"

Peeps Experiments (Overheard)

Conversation between three 7-year-old candy experimenters:

-"Oh, no. You can only fit about four jelly beans inside of a Peep. Then it'll explode."
-"More Peep eyes!"
-"I put Peep Eyes in your candy stew."
-"Why don't I get any Peep eyes?"
-"You'll need lots of surgery after this, Peep."
-"Peep blood! Peep blood!"
-"Take all the dead Peeps out."
-"I need to get my Peeps nice and soft."
-"Which ones are ready for the candy graveyard?"

USA Science and Engineering Fair Contest

Here's information about a video contest being run by the USA Science and Engineering Fair, where we will be presenting Candy experiments Oct 23-24 in Washington DC.

K-12 Students: Tell us why Science is Cool! Enter now for the USA Science & Engineering Festival Kavli Science Video Contest!
Have your video screened on the National Mall, win prize money and electronics and possibly even a trip to the Expo in Washington D.C.! Do you think Science is cool? Do you want to share your passion for science with others? Here is your chance to inspire thousands of people to be more curious, and to care about science & engineering the way you do: create a short video that explores the question "Why is Science Cool?" Videos might explore a scientific concept, show us the wonders of nature, give us a glimpse into the future, show us what scientific discovery has done for us in the past or will do for us in the future, introduce us to a great scientist or engineer, tell us why you think science is so cool or simply show us why we should care about science and/or engineering. Sponsored by The Kavli Foundation and conducted in partnership with SciVee, the contest closes on July 15, 2010. Prize money goes to the organization the student is representing (be it a school, after-school program, or other outreach program) - students win electronics prizes and either a trip to DC to the Expo or tickets for a VIP event to meet the Mythbusters. For more information visit

Aero bars

I told a friend that chocolate bars sink. "What about Aero bars?" she asked.

Aero bars! I hadn't thought of that English delicacy since my exchange student days, and the idea was tantalizing. So the next time we visited Canada, I persuaded my husband we couldn't recross the border without stopping for Aero bars.

Here's the result:

They float well. (Not that surprising, since an Aero bar is just a chocolate bar with lots of bubbles.) Even better, a gentle nudge sets them spinning nicely.

Air Pressure Presentation

I did a first grade class presentation on air and air pressure today. The kids loved watching a balloon fill up with gas from Pop Rocks dropped in a soda bottle. I did the Mentos and Coke experiment, with one Mento in a small Coke bottle, since I didn't want an 18-foot eruption indoors. The only problem? The kids didn't want me to stop.

Combining Pop Rocks with Sprite inflates a balloon

Candy and Chuck E Cheese

My daughter spent all of her Chuck E Cheese tickets to buy experiment candy: a Tootsie roll, a lollipop, and a pack of Pop Rocks. Although I tried to convince her that I had plenty of candy already, I'm glad she likes the experiments as much as I do.

Floating Easter Candy

Spring is in the air, and hearts are light. So is Easter candy.

Floating Easter candy, including Peeps and chocolate covered marshmallows

Why is Easter candy so floatable? Maybe nothing says springtime like marshmallow.

Stale Peeps Test

A friend of mine was recently given 2 enormous boxes of stale Peeps. What to do with them? Well, I could think of a few things. Like testing them in the microwave.

The verdict: stale Peeps don't expand nearly as much in the microwave as fresh ones. Here's proof. (The stale Peeps are the ones on the left.)

Posted by Picasa

New Favorite Chromatography Candy

I just tried chromatography with Brach's Easter jelly beans. Success! Green separated a little, purple separated so much that the blue ended up several inches away from the red, and black rainbowed nicely.

Black Jelly Bean Chromatography

No Brown M&Ms

Apparently Van Halen forbade brown M&Ms on their tours. According to a Rolling Stone blog post, "Buried in the contract was a clause that stipulated there would be a bowl of M&Ms backstage, with all the brown M&Ms removed. They used this to judge how closely the venue had followed the terms of the contract, because if they lapsed in this area the more technical aspects of the production were also suspect."

Van Halen apparently didn't do much M&M chromatography, or they would have known that brown M&Ms are the best!

*see also

More Chocolate Bloom

I tried heating Hershey bars in the oven to create chocolate bloom. Several reheating cycles yielded nothing--until I pried the chocolate off the pie tin and turned it over. The bottom was covered in bloom.

Chocolate Bloom

What's the best way to make chocolate bloom? This afternoon, the chocolate I microwaved and stirred had bloomed by evening, while the chocolate bars melted in the oven didn't.

I've bloomed chocolate in the oven before, but the microwave won out today. More research!

Preschool Easter Candy--with video!

Recently I presented Easter candy experiments at a local preschool. The kids were amazed.

First, I asked them to guess if these Robin's Eggs would sink or float.

Then I dropped them in water.

Surprise! The blue egg was solid milk chocolate (Brach's brand). The floating eggs were Whoppers.

I also showed them how to test candy for acid. These Sour Patch Jelly Beans, with a sour coating, worked great in baking soda water.

Post-Holiday Sales

I ran to the store this morning to stock up on discounted Easter candy. What started as a way to use up old candy has backfired completely--now I buy way more candy than ever before!

Robin's Egg Dye

Since Robin's Eggs stain your fingers so badly (I think I've seen kids use them as lipstick before) I figured they'd be great for chromatography. Sure enough, the color showed up nicely--well enough to show that there was no separation. The colors I tested (pink, yellow, and blue) were all pure dyes, not mixed.

Blue Robin's Egg Dye--Just Blue

"You should have known that already," my daughter scolded, saying I'd wasted my time. "After all, you're the candy experimenter."

Easter Egg Chromatography

Since we started candy experiments, my daughter is now in the habit of reading ingredient labels. Last night she read the label on the egg dye kit. "Mom," she said, "they only have dyes in red, yellow, and blue. So the orange, green, and purple must be mixed colors. Let's do chromatography on them!"

So, last night while I was cleaning up the mess, I got out my coffee filter paper and tried it. Indeed, I can see a faint but clear separation for purple, and maybe for green as well. Orange isn't so obvious, and it might be that one of the yellow dyes in the ingredient list is really orange (we certainly see orange after we separate M&M brown, even though no "orange" dye is listed.)

If anybody wants to try this, I would recommend wetting your dye tablet and dabbing it on the paper BEFORE you dissolve it in vinegar. You should get more intense color than I got using the dissolved dye, and the color separation might be easier to see.

Bobbin' Robbin's Eggs

Do Whopper's Robin's Eggs sink or float? Both. Some bob right to the surface, some sink to the bottom, and some sunken eggs come back up. We couldn't tell whether it was because of size, shell thickness, or color.

Also, wet Robin's Eggs turn your fingers very blue.

Easter M&M Chromatography?

When our neighbor presented us with a bag of pastel Easter M&Ms, I couldn't wait to try chromatography on them. Unfortunately, the colors were so faint it was hard for us to see them. We decided that regular M&Ms work much better.

We'll be coming up with other ideas for Easter candy, though. Maybe chromatography works better on the robin's egg malt balls?

A Near Thing

I had a stressful moment today when I walked into my daughter' after school science club, and the other parent volunteer informed me that the Nature Vision representative hadn't shown up, and nobody knew if she was going to. "I can do it," I told her. "I can go home, get my candy, and entertain these kids for an hour. If no one shows up."

Could I have done it? Absolutely. We had tons of candy we could have tested for acid, and I even have a 40 minute presentation on density. On the other hand, could I have engaged a room full of 19 children ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, without advance preparation, without leaving the floor a sticky mess, and without losing my candy down their throats?

I didn't get a chance to find out. Just as I was about to grab my car keys, the real science club teacher walked in. Our kids spent a happy half hour looking at pond critters in magnifiers, and never knew what they missed.

But I'll keep my candy packed up. Just in case.

Density Rainbow on TV

Lisa Bergantz of adapted my Skittles Density Rainbow for a TV presentation. Watch her at

She did it differently than I would do it, but I like the way she layers the water in a straw. This looks like a fail-safe way to demonstrate the rainbow without the tricky pouring. Of course, I love the way the full rainbow turns out, so I'm going to keep doing it myself.

Science Fair

The Science Fair went so well! We set up a table for people to try Find Hidden Candy, Chromatography, and Acid Testing. Kids had a blast, and my daughter informed me it was the best day ever.
--the girl who kept coming back to make more "M&M Rainbows" (chromatography with M&Ms), and brought all her friends
--the girl who wouldn't leave the science fair until she had located all of her chromatography papers to take home
--the boy who tried to make a geyser by simultaneously dropping five Warheads in the acid test water (and yes, we saw lots of bubbles)
--the kids who were fascinated by the kitchen scale, weighing out candy to match the sugar in every soda, drink, and pack of cookies on display (then weighing the sodas, drinks, and cookies)

So, success all around.

I also discovered a new secret weapon for candy experiment presentations: a strainer. Use it to catch the candy when you dump the candy water, then throw the candy in the garbage. This works much better than pouring everything in the sink, and raking out the candy with your fingers (which I have also tried).


My daughter and I spent the evening collecting materials and making signs for tomorrow's science fair. What a lot of work--and we haven't even arrived at the school yet.

Brach's Customer Service

I called Brach's candy company yesterday with a question about their ingredients. To my amazement, a real person answered the phone, gave me a brief answer to my question, then wrote down my question to give to a nutrition expert. I received the rest of my answer by email the next day.

Way to go, Brach's--helping to promote science through candy!

Mars Healthy Living

The Mars company has updated their nutritional information site, at
You can look up nutrition for all of their candy, but once you've clicked on one it's hard to find your way back to the main menu. Click on the X in the top right corner of the nutrition information box, or click on the "What's Inside" tab on the top left, to return to the list of candy. It's fascinating reading.

I think they used to list ingredients here, but I don't see the list anymore. Hmm.

Pop Rocks Experiment

Drop Pop Rocks in water and watch the bubbles rise.

Skittles Density Rainbow in Presentation

I recently did a classroom presentation with candy experiments, and finished up with the Skittles density rainbow for my grand finale. It worked pretty well, thanks to these preparations:

--I counted out the Skittles ahead of time and put them in cups: one set of
1/5/10/15/20 starting with 20 reds, and another set starting with 20 purples. That way, I had a backup set.
--I stacked the cups for each color set and carried the Skittles in the cups
--At the school, I measured out the water (as hot as I could get out of the tap), and got my Skittles dissolving before the presentation started
--I asked the teacher to stir my cups occasionally during my presentation

By the end, my red and orange hadn't quite dissolved, but I went ahead and started pouring. Red and orange blended together a little bit, but the green and purple stripes were very distinct. Success!

One thing I'll remember: pouring the rainbow takes a little while, so it's best to talk to the kids while you pour. The trouble is, you can't see the kids to call on them. Next time I'll invite the teacher to call on kids while my eyes are fixed on the rainbow.

Candy with Kids

We had a bunch of kids over this afternoon for candy experiments. Little kids like the science when you show it to them, but they do just fine without the explanations. They loved squashing Peeps marshmallows, making Peeps sandwiches, and pouring hot water over stacks of Peeps, candy cane, and licorice. We ended up with a lot of "Candy Soup."

The kids' favorite discovery: Peeps get slimy when you dissolve the sugar off.

Valentine Sweethearts

Posted by Picasa

When I heard on NPR that Necco had changed their recipe for Valentine hearts, I had to rush out and buy a variety of Necco Sweethearts and Brach's Conversation Hearts to compare. We did a lot of experiments yesterday.

Here's one thing all the hearts had in common (except the sugar-free ones). Drop them in water, and they sink. But after a while, they bob to the surface again.

Unrolling Valentine Lollipops

Did you know lollipop sticks unroll when they're wet?
This is how we enjoyed our valentine lollipops.

Valentine Hearts

In honor of Valentine's Day, we dissolved some cinnamon hearts to see what would happen.

In this picture, I tilted the bowl of water. The denser sugar water sank to the bottom, exposing the hearts at the top of the bowl.

These translucent gems are really half-dissolved cinnamon hearts.

A Perfect Ending to a Perfect Project

One great way to get rid of leftover candy is to decorate gingerbread houses with it--especially when you dismantle it a month later for candy experiments. This is how my daughter (unprompted) decided to spend her Sunday afternoon:

We had a great time watching pools of color spread from dissolving jawbreakers, and testing whether gummi bears actually dissolve. (The verdict: a little.)

Marshmallows and Dry Ice

Since we had extra dry ice the other day, we decided to use it for candy experiments. My kids had a lot of fun dropping, snapping, and crushing frozen candy to see whether it was frozen hard enough to shatter. Check out these marshmallows!

Shrinking Ghosts

If you're going to test marshmallows, you've got to use some Peeps out of principle. Here are some really spooky Halloween ghosts--they shrink by themselves.

We took an empty plastic bottle, drilled a hole in the lid, and stuck in a basketball air pump, wrapping rubber bands around the pump insert to help create a seal.  Though the seal wasn't perfect, we were able to pump in enough air to increase the pressure in the bottle, and sink our ghosts.

The eerie moaning isn't ghostly howling, it's air escaping from our leaky bottle.

"They're Getting Smaller and Dancing!"

How do you squash a marshmallow without touching it? All you need is a bottle, a pump, and an MIT engineer. Check it out:

After-Christmas sales

I've bought more candy in the past twelve months than ever before in my life, but the post-holiday sales too hard to pass up. I thought I was done buying candy, but I fell victim to a box of tricolored candy canes in the checkout display. Wonder how those look after a few minutes in the oven?

After we got home, my daughter pointed out that they're sour candy canes, which means we can do the acid test on our leftovers. Bonus!

Candy Experiments are Going to Washington DC!

We've been invited to present candy experiments at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, to be held on the National Mall in Washington DC on October 23 and 24. Hundreds of science organizations, including Harvard, MIT, Fermilab, and Dow, will be presenting hands-on science activities for all ages in a grand weekend extravaganza. Exhibitors will help visitors build underwater robots, make instant snow, turn old crayons into fuel, mix colored chemicals, and lots more.

So if you're in DC next October, come try candy experiments and other great science activities. If you're not planning to be in DC, maybe you should add it to your calendar. We'll see you there.

Don't Eat the Experiments!

The other day when I was doing experiments with my kids I thoughtlessly popped a malt ball into my mouth. As soon as I did, all the other candy started making me salivate. I could hardly keep my mind off all the sugar.

I always tell juvenile candy scientists that experiment candy is just for experiments, not eating. The few times I've allowed children to try even one piece, they spend the rest of the time begging for more. Now I've learned for myself: don't eat the experiment candy. Or you might want to eat it all.

Traveling Marshmallows

When we drove to Utah last week, I woke up in the middle of the night kicking myself: "Why didn't we seal any marshmallows in bottles and bring them along to see what happened when we changed altitude?" So when we visited the family cabin, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, we sealed up some marshmallows and drove them back home.

Here's a video of us opening the bottle at sea level. Notice how the marshmallows shrink when the lid pops off--that's because the air rushing in pushes them down. When the video ends, you can see that the unsealed marshmallows are a lot smaller than the sealed ones.

M&M Colors

A few days ago I was stuck in a mountain cabin with a 3-year-old whining for M&Ms. What to do? I showed her what happened when you put them in water. She was hooked. We watched the colors dissolve, watched the m's peel off (they didn't float this time, for some reason), and stirred the colors together to make new ones. She liked it so much that when she saw me the next day the first thing she said was, "I want to play with candy!" So we did more dissolving, using primary colors to make orange and green. Hey, it's one way to amuse the kids.