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.