Sugar Crystal Christmas Ornaments

After seeing Timothy Horn's carriage coated with sparkling sugar crystals, I was inspired to create my own. I hung these pipe cleaners in sugar water (2 parts sugar, 1 part water, boiled until sugar is dissolved, then placed in a jar) and left them there a week.
The results? Sparkly ornaments pretty enough to hang on our tree.
For instructions on making sugar crystals, see the Exploratorium's rock candy recipe.

Impressing kids with Candy Canes

OK, it was just one kid. But boy, did his eyes go wide after I melted a candy cane just enough to make it swoop side to side. As I blogged last year, I made a zig zag form out of a strip of folded tinfoil, placed the candy cane on top, and put it in a 250 F oven for 5 minutes. (My young friend had a hard time waiting that long, and I was worried it wouldn't be ready before he ran out of patience. The two-hour floating conversation hearts are probably not the right experiment for him!) The candy cane ended up as kind of an M shape--I wish I'd taken a picture!

Candy Cane Stripes

Ever wonder how to make stripes at the bottom of a bowl of water? All you need is a candy cane.
Unwrap the candy cane, put it in a shallow dish of water, and let it sit for several minutes. The stripes will slowly dissolve into the water and spread across the bottom of the bowl.

Candy Experiments in Columbus Parent

I knew this article was coming out, but didn't think to look it up until today. I'm glad I did. It starts off with kids trying out the oil test, and leads to my favorite line in the article, when the kids are asked if there's oil in candy: “No. Who puts oil in candy?” Emily said. “That’s gross.” You can read the entire article "Cooking with Kids: Candy Science" at Columbus Parents online.

Time article about sugar in cereal

My favorite foods for the Find Hidden Candy experiment are soda (because there's SO much sugar) and breakfast cereal. At the USA Science and Engineering Festival, I chose a box of Honey Smacks cereal because it had by far the most sugar: more than 50%. Twizzlers, by comparison, are only 42% sugar (and contain flour as well--does that make them healthier than Honey Smacks?) Now an article in Time points out the appalling amounts of sugar in many breakfast cereals, and compares it with other foods. One cup of Honey Smacks has more sugar than a Twinkie (and not much food value--those things are like tiny air-filled balloons!) Forty-four cereals have more sugar per cup than Chip's Ahoy cookies. So if you serve cereal for breakfast, check the sugar content when you buy. Even "healthy" cereals like Frosted Mini Wheats have more than you think (about 20%). And if your kids beg for sugary cereal, think of serving it for dessert.

Gift Ideas

Do you have young scientists in your family? Here are some gifts I'm considering this holiday season.

--Doyle and Fossey Science Detective Books: Think about Encyclopedia Brown doing science experiments, and you get Drake Doyle and Nell Fossey. These fifth grade science detectives use real science to solve mysteries like why is the garbage can burping, who faked the ghost in the cemetery, and who wrote the mysterious love letter (I especially liked this one because it uses chromatography.) Each story has instructions for an experiment kids can try themselves. With a degree in microbiology, years of lab experience, and several children's books in publication, Torrey knows both her science and her audience. My daughter enjoyed these books, and I'm wondering if my son is ready for them.

--Potato Chip Science: I haven't tried this one out yet because I hid it until it's time to wrap presents. (Don't tell my kids!) According to the package, it has instructions and equipment for several experiments including a potato clock. If nothing else, the packaging is genius--they've enclosed it in a crackly plastic potato chip bag.

--Candy Experiments Kit: If I get surprised by a sudden need for a holiday gift (somehow I can never tell when get-togethers and playdates are going to erupt into spontaneous gift exchanges), I'll package up some candy experiment kits. To make your own kit, print out the set of 8 experiment cards from my Printables page, which includes experiments for Life Saver Lights, Pop Rocks, Floating Letters, Acid Test, and others. Tape the appropriate candy to each card, wrap it up in a nice box, and decorate with a bow. Nobody'll ever know it was a last minute scramble.

Holiday Experiments: Oldies but Goodies

I just saw that my guest blog post for last year was reposted at the blog Our Journey Through Autism. I wrote about chromatography and melting candy canes. Since the blog post became unavailable soon after I published it, it's fun to see it up again.

Last year I posted these really fun candy cane experiments:
-Candy Cane Countdown #3: Bubbling Candy Canes
-Candy Cane Countdown #2: Mutant Candy Canes
-Candy Cane Countdown #1: Rubber Bandy Canes

The Rubber Bandy Canes were one of my favorite experiments ever, and I just bought two boxes of Bob's candy canes so we can do them again. Maybe this year we'll even be able to hollow some out.

Melting Gummies

Here's a blog post by a mom who melted gummi bears in the microwave, then gave her son q-tips to play in the bubbling goo before it hardened. Looks really fun (but supervise closely if you do this at home, because melted candy can be very hot.)

Sugar Crystals on Display

I've made plenty of sugar crystals in the course of creating candy experiments, and there will be sugar crystal experiments in the Candy Experiments book coming out next October. But I never knew you could actually do anything with sugar crystals until I saw Timothy Horn's sculpture, Mother-Load.

Horn's noticed a backlash against sugar in public opinion in the last few years, as experts warn that sugar is contributing to the rise of obesity. "Sugar has been getting a bad rap," he says. So his art works, such as this sugar-coated carriage Mother-Load, seek to present sugar as something beautiful.

Horn created Mother-Load in recognition of Alma Spreckles, a rags-to-riches 1900's socialite who married a San Francisco sugar baron. Horn made a form from plywood and steel, adding ornamental details made from scrunched aluminum foil and carved foam. But the most striking ornamentation comes from the sugar crystals, bought in bulk at a Chinese grocery. Horn used an acrylic glaze to coat the entire surface of the carriage in gem-like crystals of all sizes. Finally, Horn coated the carriage in amber-colored shellac, making the final product glow like honey. A sign in museum where the carriage is currently displayed warns visitors to not lick the artwork!

Mother-Load will be displayed at the Bellevue Arts Museum through Dec 31. You can also see more pictures at Timothy Horn's website.

Sour Cotton Candy Acid Test Video

Here's another fun thing to acid test: sour cotton candy. Since the cotton candy sugar strands are so thin, they dissolve almost instantly, releasing the sour acid to react with the baking soda. The result? LOTS of bubbles.

Candy Experiments in Space!

No, I didn't jump on a spaceship (too bad). But here's a video of a candy experiment in space, in which a NASA astronaut sticks candy corns in a floating ball of water to demonstrate how surfactants work. It's pretty cool. You can read the whole article here.

Thanks to Samira Kawash at for sending me the link!

Why you shouldn't broil your candy

What your melting experiment looks like when you use the broiler because your oven's bake function broke.

M&M's math

Lots of bloggers write about graphing Skittles or M&M's. This pdf shows the variety of M&M's colors with percentages. I was surprised that brown (at 13%) was almost as common as red (13%) and yellow (14%), since I recently opened a small bag of M&M's that didn't have any browns at all. Thanks to Rachel of Momma Owl's Lab for posting the link to this pdf on her blog, as well as a great M&M's graphing experiment.

Creation Station: new Experiment Party idea

When I did an experiment party with several elementary school girls last week, I added a Creation Station as one of the experiment stops. Here we put all the candy we couldn't use for the other experiments (sink/float, acid test, and Find Hidden Candy), and encouraged the girls to build with it. They had a blast, creating all sorts of fun art, and it was a great way to use up the candy we couldn't experiment with. I highly recommend it for any candy experiments party!

Density experiment from Science Matters Blog

The former teacher and mom at Science Matters had a whole week of candy experiments before Halloween. Here's a great way to measure the density of candy. I've also played around with density measurements, and there will be some density experiments in next year's Candy Experiments book, but I found this one straightforward and easy to understand. The author also has lots of great ideas for demonstrations on erosion, cells, and refraction (I really wish I could test this one out!)

brown sugar no more

White sugar crystallizes. So what about brown sugar? My kids wanted to find out, so I dissolved a couple of tablespoons in a tablespoon of hot water, set it on the counter, and waited to see what happened. After a few weeks, this is what we got:

The sugar has formed into clear crystals, with a molasses-like liquid beneath them (you can see the brown puddle at the bottom of the tipped bowl.) But why?

It turns out that brown sugar isn't much different from white sugar. In fact, most brown sugar is just white sugar with a little molasses added. When you dissolve it, and let it recrystallize, the sugar molecules crystallize together, concentrating the molasses flavoring in the remaining liquid. The crystals have only a tiny molasses taste, which comes from the molasses coating I wasn't quite able to rinse off. If I could clean off the crystals before I tasted them, I'd be tasting pure sugar.

When I tell people I do candy experiments, they always ask if I make candy. My answer is always no. It's way more fun to take it apart!

Candy Corn Chemistry

A fun little video, shared by the American Chemical Society, on what goes into candy corn.

Candy Experiments on KOMO News

Here's the piece from KOMO TV's show featuring candy experiments. It's amazing how over an hour of filming gets condensed to two minutes! Our only question: why on earth does the reporter introduce candy experiments while standing in Greenlake?

Submerged Gummies

Gummi bears have really been in the news lately. Along with teenagers soaking them in alcohol, scientists are sinking them in the ocean to study the crushing effects of the deep sea waves. Read more about it here.

I do want to contest one fact in the article, which says "This might be the first time gummy bears have been destroyed in the name of science." We've been destroying gummi bears in the name of science for years now!

Post Halloween Candy Buys

If you see any "Fluffy Stuff Spider Web Cotton Candy" while scoping the after-Halloween sales, pick up a package. Since the only ingredients are sugar, citric acid, and artificial flavors, they're great for the acid test.

Pixy Stix are on sale too, at least in the post-Halloween aisle at my local drugstore. Those are really fun for acid testing.

Candy management tips from Candy Construction book

Here's another way to use up Halloween candy. Author Sharon Bowers has come up with lots of great crafts you can design with candy in her book Candy Construction: How to Build Race Cars, Castles, and Other Cool Stuff out of Store-Bought Candy.

Like me, Bowers has found that once she gets the kids excited about the candy project and turns them loose, they're not focused on eating it. She tells her kids no eating while building ("What construction worker snacks on the job?"), and lets them choose one piece of candy to set aside and eat after cleanup. Her final rule: "Candy construction workers always brush their teeth after work."

In my experience, letting the kids choose even one piece of candy to eat keeps them focused on eating, not testing, so my mantra is, "The candy is for experiments, it's not for eating." But it's nice to know that Bowers has also figured out ways to get children to play with candy instead of eating it. It really is possible to redirect kids' candy mania, and find alternative ways for them to enjoy their candy.

A cleanup tip

After doing three candy experiment demos in five days, I've learned I really need to pack a bunch of rags. School paper towels just don't cut it when you're trying to mop up somebody's sticky spilled experiment. And have the rags ready at hand--we wasted a lot of time running to and from the paper towel dispenser during my son's Halloween party.

Really original trick-or-treat idea!

Here's a family who passed out water and oranges at a Halloween Hydration Station, and the trick or treaters had a great time! That's probably the healthiest Halloween handout I've ever heard of.


In case I don't get around to adding this to the experiments page, here's instructions for candy melting fun.

Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil
Unwrap your candy and put it on the sheet. (Caution: never melt a jawbreaker!)
Place in low oven (300-350 F) and wait to see what happens.

Microwave: use a microwave-safe plate and watch your candy (not jawbreakers) as you heat it. Most candy melts in a minute or less. If you heat it too long, you might scorch your candy or even your plate, so choose your dishes carefully and keep a close watch.

You might be surprised at what melts and what doesn't!

Outsmarted Twice!

After the children's Halloween party tonight, my daughter asked if they could eat some of their candy. "Lots of candy!"

As a candy experimenter, I try to keep my children from gorging on candy. But I didn't want to just say no. "Sure," I said. Noticing that she was contorting her face in very odd ways, I remembered some memoir I'd read in which the writer could never master the Mr. Spock eyebrow trick. "If you can raise only one eyebrow." Ha! Beat that impossible task! She promptly did.

I couldn't renege--as she reminded me several times on the way home, "We don't lie in our church, Mommy!" And her proposal, that each child could eat one mini candy bar and share in the contents of two mini packs of M&M's, was still conservative under the circumstances. I agreed to the deal, as long as she would give me all the brown M&M's for my upcoming class demonstrations on chromatography. "Just the plain ones? not the peanuts?" she clarified, and, feeling magnanimous, I agreed.

And that was how I learned that some packs of M&M's are defective. I.e., incomplete. I.e., no browns.

Maybe next time I'll just keep my mouth shut.

Drunken Gummi Bears

A Detroit newstory, which I saw mentioned at, warns parents that teens are now soaking gummi candy in vodka so that they can smuggle alcohol around. While I would not recommend soaking anything in alcohol, it is pretty fun to soak gummi candies in water. They absorb so much water, they actually expand.

Leaf chromatography experiment

There's no candy involved, but Scientific American has a great chromatography experiment with autumn leaves. It takes a little while longer than M&M chromatography, so be prepared.

Candy Experiment in Scientific American

A friend just emailed me this article in Scientific American. It's an experiment which tests the effect of evaporation on melting chocolate (you wrap one chocolate bar in a dry paper towel and one bar in a wet paper towel to compare how fast they melt).

Hearts Fading

When we first tested hearts in the window to see if they would fade, only the pink ones faded quickly. But after a few more weeks, more colors had faded as well.

This heart used to be purple. The other side, exposed to the sun, has faded completely. On this side, the bottom of the heart, the edges have faded from sunlight, leaving only the untouched purple spot in the middle.

The blue candy heart on the left has faded noticeably. Compare it with the unfaded heart on the right.

T-Shirts Available

So many people asked about our T-shirts last year at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC that I've decided to make them available. If you'd like to tell the world you do candy experiments, you can order shirts here.

Family Experiments with Candy Discards

An article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal describes why one family does candy experiments. After the Halloween-loving father helps his kids sort their candy "according to awesomeness," the kids won't eat the discards. So there's nothing left to do but experiment with it!

Candy Experiments on TV

The cable show NorthWest Families, which airs on Northwest Cable News, just did a segment on candy experiments. They're right--candy experiments ARE a great way to use Halloween candy!

Here's the candy experiments video. If it doesn't work, try this

Candy Experiments in new article

An article in LakeInTheHillsPatch mentions candy experiments as one way to use up candy experiments, saying "Older kids will have a blast running experiments with their candy. Check out for some cool science experiments that go beyond exploding Mentos in Coke..."

It's always fun to be mentioned, and I agree that older kids will have a blast with candy experiments. But younger kids do too! Even my toddlers loved dumping candy in water and stirring, stirring, stirring. In fact, my young son could go through an entire Halloween haul in one evening, just dumping it all into a bowl of water to make "candy soup."

One comment in this article mentioned that many military organizations do not want candy shipped to them. If true, this would put a crimp in those dentist buy-back programs. More investigation required.

Candy Experiments used in childrens' hospitals

Recently the organization Hope and Healing through Science used candy experiments as part of their ongoing series of science lessons with hospitalized children at Duke and UNC Children's Hospitals. Looks like they all had a great time!

You can read about their candy experiments, as well as other fun science projects they've done, at their blog.

Jawbreaker Rings

Since it's kind of hard to bisect a jawbreaker, I'm thinking I shouldn't put the experiment in the book. But isn't the result beautiful?

The "tree-rings" come from the process of panning the candy.

A Candy Experimenter's Shopping Bag

1 bag taffy (for freezing experiments)
2 bags Hershey miniatures and 1 bag Nestle Crunch (for floating experiments)
1 orange (because even I will occasionally indulge a child's checkout-counter whims!)

Candy in the Sun

I didn't mean to conduct this experiment, it was just a byproduct of leaving this pink mint on the kitchen counter for a few weeks because I kept meaning to throw it in the oven.  The sunlight faded it so much it's hardly pink anymore.

Pink mint (original color) next to sun-faded mint

Here's a picture of the underside of the mint.  Again, you can see the contrast between the faded edges, which perhaps got some sunlight because the mint isn't actually quite flat, and so a little sun would have shone on the very edges, and also perhaps because the mint was sitting on a reflective pie tin.  Whatever the reason, the difference is significant.

I hope my dermatologist sister is proud of me writing about the strong effects of sunlight!  I wonder if the mint would have been protected against fading by a coating of sunscreen?

Call for Experimenters in Columbus, OH

Has anybody ever done candy experiments in Columbus, OH? If you have, and if you're willing to help out with an article on candy experiments that will appear in Columbus Parent Magazine, contact me.

Density Rainbow Upgrade

Somebody once suggested I try doing the density rainbow with a syringe. Yesterday, in the process of taking pictures for the upcoming book, I finally tried it, and it worked great. (I used one of those blue bulb syringes you get to clean baby's ears--guess I should mark it so I don't use it on ears again!)

I had much more control over the pouring process when I used the syringe. My husband also poured a rainbow, and he poured his colored solution into a liquid measuring cup with a lip, which also made the pouring easier. Both rainbows turned out nicely, with very distinct stripes.

So, if you've been put off by the difficulty of the Density Rainbow, it may be time to give it another try!


Taking all these photos of candy experiments is making me snacky. I've had to slice lots of apples as sweet replacements. My toddler is also getting into the spirit of things. Since I gave her all my Pop Rocks discards (many packages had failed so that the Pop Rocks had all stuck together and lost their fizz), she's been putting them into her own bowl of water. When I caught her licking fragments off her fingers, she gave a guilty start and started plucking them off her tongue to drop in the water. Yet another reason never to eat candy experiments!

Sports Snacks

Just found this photo of a snack given to my young son after his soccer game.  

In case you can't read the labels, that's a whole 35 grams of sugar. How many calories do you burn in a kiddie soccer game, anyway?

Lessons Learned While Dissolving Chocolate

When we went on vacation to the beach, I took an afternoon to pound away at the candy experiments book.  One experiment was on dissolving chocolate, so I pulled out some of the glasses in the cabin, filled them up, and dropped in chocolate pieces:

Here's something this teetotaler never knew before: some shot glasses are so narrow you can't fit a spoon down inside to scoop out a piece of chocolate!  (Luckily this was a well-stocked cabin: I soon turned up something like a pickle fork that worked just fine.)

This photo is of one of the chocolate experiments, with tiny fragments of chocolate dissolving at the bottom.

Candy Experiments in Homeschooling Newsletter was just featured in a newsletter by Besides the blurb for candy experiments, there's also a great (and short!) animation of a black hole swallowing a star, sidewalk chalk art that's unbelieveably realistic, and a scrapbook with a picture of a medieval undercroft I'm sure I've visited. What fun!

 Thanks for the interest.
All that experimentation floating candy in soda got me thinking: can we test how soda floats? The perfect opportunity presented itself at my husband's work party, where we found a tub full of choices. I held up one can of regular Coke, and one can of diet, and released them at the water's surface. Diet Coke bobbed away, while the regular Coke sank to the bottom.

This was so fun I tried it with many kinds of soda, and only stopped when I couldn't feel my cold fingers anymore!

Summer Soda Experiments

After testing what kinds of candy float in which kinds of sodas, my children examine the results while sipping leftover test solution.

Candy in the News

NPR's comedy show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" just covered a story about using candy to help people. Apparently cops in Canada now hand out lollipops to calm drunks.

Hear more about it at the Wait Wait website, in the show from July 23.

Candy Experiments in Summer Sun

With 13 kids to entertain, a sunny summer afternoon, and a handy picnic table, it was time for candy experiments!

Ingredients for a successful outdoor session
* washable table
* large bucket of water (you won't want to be running to the tap all the time)
* small pitcher you can refill from the bucket
o for filling cups
o for washing sticky hands
* disposable cups (I recommend clear plastic because you can see through the sides as well as the top)
* bowl of baking soda, with more inside for easy refills
* spoons for soda and for stirring
* sunscreen
* small bowls for candy dispensing (no need to get out all the M&M's; using Minis, we only went through less than 1/2 a cup)
* seltzer water, because kids like watching all the bubbles when they put in the candy
* garbage container or sack (You'll generate a lot of wrappers)
* paper towels

Good candy
* M&Ms for color mixing
* Warheads for acid test
* Nerds for acid test, for bright colors, for looking for sugar crystals in middle
* Taffy, Tootsie Rolls for boat-making

As always, testing for acid was a huge hit, especially when we tried Warheads, Nerds, and Lemonheads (remember to let Lemonheads dissolve for a few minutes before adding soda).

We also competed to see who could shape taffy into boats that would float.  Most boats sank quickly, but a few winners stayed up for several seconds.  An 8-year-old girl was our champion, stretching several boats of Tootsie Roll (one of her secrets was to use at least two pieces), and a 5-year-old girl won for the longest time with a taffy boat.  To make a taffy boat, mold your taffy into a bowl shape, and be sure not to poke holes in the bottom.

Diverting kids with a few bottles of bubble solution might have been be cheaper, cleaner, and a lot less work.  But the kids had a great time (some played with candy for over an hour and a half!), and learned some science, and the candy experiments sure added a splash of color to an otherwise low-key afternoon.

More about Cocoa Butter Decorations

We just finished a super-long car trip through Utah, Colorado, and South Dakota.  I didn't get to tour the Sweet's candy factory in Salt Lake (another time!), but we did visit the La Chatelaine shop in Bozeman, Montana.  Racking our brains and trying to remember what city they were in, we were lucky enough to look them up after we'd finished our lunch in Bozeman, or we would have missed our chance.

Not only did we buy a box of gorgeous truffles, but the saleslady explained how they created the cocoa butter decorations. She told me that the patterns come pre-printed on sheets of plastic, which are applied to the truffles as they come out of the enrobing machine, still warm.  It made me wonder if I could warm the truffles up and use tissue paper to lift the patterns off, but I'm not sure I want to try.  Halloween candy is fair game for experimentation, but gourmet truffles are another matter.

Cocoa Butter

You might think that since chocolate bloom degrades the quality of a chocolate bar, cocoa butter on chocolate's surface is a bad thing.  Think again.

Cocoa butter covers the surface of many gourmet chocolates.  That's because the decorations are made with cocoa butter.  We learned this at the recent Seattle Chocolate Salon, where vendors handed out samples of their wares to try.  Many also spared a few minutes to answer questions from a curious candy experimenter.

The creators of La Chatelaine chocolate explained to me how the cocoa butter was dyed and applied to decorate their truffles.  Cocoa butter coating doesn't degrade the taste at all--it was a real test of will to save these truffles for photographs before I could eat them.  They taste as good as they look.

Amano Chocolate also had gorgeous truffles.

Apologies to the vendors whose wares I couldn't feature--I couldn't afford a box from everybody!
Maybe next year.

Candy Experiments Award

Great news--my Highlights article, "Candy Secrets," just won a 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing, proving once again that candy science is a real winner for kids and parents!

The Inventor of Jelly Belly Beans

A great article about David Klein, who claims to have invented the Jelly Belly, and the crazy candy he's working on now.

Chocolate Bloom

Last week I decided to revisit the Chocolate Bloom experiment.  A chocolatier at Oh! Chocolate gave me a tip: if my melted chocolate bars aren't blooming, stir them with a pretzel or something.  Without proper tempering, the stirred chocolate should quickly bloom.

So, last Wednesday, I liquified Hershey bars in the microwave, in the oven, and with a hair dryer, and dipped nearly a pack of pretzel sticks.  At the end of the day there was no bloom anywhere.  I decided to give up and start eating the pretzels.

But the bloom had gotten started, all right.  By Friday, my chocolate bars were getting speckled.  By today, they were spectacular.

These Hershey bars were melted twice in the microwave, then left in the kitchen window for a week.  The bars on the left, which had been stirred, definitely bloomed.  But so did the unstirred bars on the right.  (Top: milk chocolate, bottom: Special Dark.)

This one was my favorite: it looks as if it had turned inside-out.

And what about those pretzels? By today, the uneaten survivors had bloomed too.

The lesson? If you're trying to create chocolate bloom, be patient.  It might take a few days for the process to really work.

Coming Soon: the Candy Experiments book!

It's official: my book Candy Experiments will be published next summer by Andrews McMeel.  With several dozen great candy experiments, including several that have never been published, it'll have lots of fun ways to play with candy and learn science at the same time.

Blog Award just received a Stylish Blogger award from the Homeschool Escapade blog, whose author commented, "Just wanted you to know how much your blog is appreciated (I love all the great ideas)."


Summer Learning at WeTeach

The We Teach group has just published their summer learning ebook, including an activity from me based on Find Hidden Candy. Download the book for fun ways to include math, cooking, science, and many other subjects in your summer activities.  You can also visit the We Teach website to learn more about the group,  a resource for "anyone and everyone who teaches--no matter the classroom!"

we teach summer ebook contributor

Ice Bags--Frozen Fireworks?

On the day we experimented with M&Ms and Ziploc bags of ice to learn about cold water currents, my son and daughter decided to fill baggies with water and put them in the freezer. (Note to self--no wonder I'm out of sandwich bags!)

When I cleaned out the freezer, hoping to sneak the water bags into the garbage, I was amazed by what I saw. Air bubbles had formed lines streaking out from the center of the ice, as if we'd frozen a firework explosion.

The explanation for this phenomenon has to do with the air in the water.  PhD Martin Lersch writes in his food chemistry blog, Kymos, that room temperature water has air dissolved in it, and the amount of air it can hold increases as it gets colder.  (I had to boil water to remove the air for my experiments with floating conversation hearts.)  When the water freezes, "the water can no longer keep the air dissolved and a bubble is formed."  If the ice were to freeze from the inside out, the air could escape naturally.  However, since freezer ice freezes from the outside in, and (presumably) since our ice was enclosed in air-tight Ziploc bags, the air was trapped inside the ice.  We froze the water in large amounts, which contained more air than regular ice cubes.

The result?  Lots of trapped air bubbles forming slow-motion fireworks, a beautiful reminder of Nature's inexhaustible designs.

Egg Decorating

Whenever we do major candy experiments, I end up with stained countertops. So, this Easter, I thought we should try dying Easter eggs with candy.

The Laffy Taffy looked pretty good when it was stuck on the egg. However, when we peeled it off, only one egg had any color left.

We'll have to try better ways to transfer color next year when it's egg season again.

Pixy Stix Art

A new use for Pixy Stix: sand art.

Pixy Stix After the Art

Of course, after you've opened all those Pixy Stix you have to do the acid test. (Pixy Stix are awesome to test, since they dissolve so fast.

Trying something new, my daughter mixed the baking soda with the Pixy Stix while the powder was still dry.

Then we poured in the water. Great bubbles!

Sinking Hearts, Rising Hearts

What do romance novels have in common with candy experiments?  They're both full of sinking and rising hearts.

Cake Mate hearts float nicely for a few minutes when you put them in water. As they do, they dissolve, shedding bright red sugar solution. The solution, denser than pure water, sinks.

Conversation hearts sink immediately.  In some hearts, however, trapped air bubbles seem to emerge, floating upwards, sometimes carrying up candy particles.  (Watch the blue heart in the right side of the bowl shedding pieces which float up to the surface.)

I can feel my heart rising already, can't you?

Melted Gum

Note to self: next time I let my kids melt gum on a baking sheet, put down tinfoil!  I keep forgetting this tip I've seen my readers use, and it would save me hours of work.  I still haven't gotten all of the gum off.

Chromatography Methods

The theory of chromatography is simple: you dab a dot of color onto a paper, stand the paper up in water, and let the rising water separate the colors by solubility.  But how do you make sure the paper stays upright?

One easy method is to crease the chromatography paper vertically, then stand it in water.  This works especially well if the bottom of the paper is cut flat (an angled bottom will make the paper tip.)

If the paper doesn't stand on its own, try folding the top of the paper over the side of the glass.  Note that that this method is problematic: a professional biochemist cautioned me that surface tension between the glass and the paper might interfere with the capillary action causing the water to rise.  However, it works well enough for M&M color separation, or the other basic chromatography we do in our kitchen.  For better results, angle the bottom of the paper out so that the paper is not stuck to the glass.

If your chromatography paper is especially difficult to work with, clip it in place with clothespins or binder clips.  Lay a pencil over the top of the glass and clip on the paper, forming a T with the paper hanging down, or take a shortcut and clip it to the side of the glass, as shown (angling the paper out from the glass, as above).

When doing chromatography with large groups, I use clothespins on a wire rack to suspend the chromatography papers over a dish of water.  This way I only need one water container.  (Make sure your scientists label their papers in pencil if they want to know which are theirs.)

Whatever chromatography method you use, make sure that the color dot is placed above the waterline.  This is easy if you're hanging the paper--just hold the bottom edge in the water with the dot above the surface, then clip the paper in place.  If you fold and stand your paper, make sure the dot is high enough so that it will still be dry when you stand up your paper.  Then watch the water rise, and see what colors your dot is really made of.

CakeMate Hearts

If you're not making cupcakes, there's only so much you can do with Cake Mate Valentine's hearts.  After we had eaten our fill of the hearts a kind neighbor gave us, I wondered what we'd do with the rest.  "How about candy experiments?" a friend suggested.  Of course.

According to the label, these red hearts actually contain three dyes: Red 3, Red 40, and Yellow 6.  When we tried chromatography, the red heart dye separated into at least two different colors, a pink and an orange.

If the color table on is accurate, we found Red 3 ("cherry-red") and Red 40 ("orange-red").  Yellow may have been too faint for us to see (this is common), it might not separate from the other dyes in water (for instance, if it moves at the same speed in water as one of the other dyes), or it may only have been used in the pink candy which we did not test.

We also wondered if the hearts would sink or float.  Turns out they do both.

These two hearts were put in water at the same time.  One sank quickly, while the other floated for several minutes.  The floating heart had an air bubble trapped underneath, which probably helped the buoyancy.

Overall, the hearts floated at first, then sank, then returned to the surface as a dissolving mass of bubbles.

Easter Blue M's?

Easter M&Ms come in such pretty colors that when we got some last year, we were excited to experiment with them.  Sadly, the M&M colors were too faint for good chromatography--we could hardly see the colors on the paper, much less any separation.  So this year, we decided to concentrate on the m's themselves.

First of all, are these m's made of the same stuff as normal white m's?  Experimentation shows at least one difference: these m's seem to dissolve.

Blue streaks sinking down from the bottom of the m--dissolved blue dye?

That led us to the big question: do the blue m's float?  What about all those little bunnies and sheep?  Apparently so.

What about the speckles on the M&M eggs?

Yes, they float too.

Which leads me to my final question: how do they print the speckles on all sides of an oblong egg?  Alas, experimentation can't answer that one.