No lab coat necessary to get geeky with science

Learn about three simple science experiments that any geek can do at home. Let us know if you've tried any science experiments that you recommend to your fellow Geekend readers.

Generally speaking, geeks love science. This might be because geeks are attracted to accuracy and knowledge. I like science because it's fun. I am always on the lookout for science experiments that we can do at home with little equipment, dedicated space, or investment. Science experiments fill the same hobby space in my life as crafting. I'm generally making something either way; but with science I might be making (or growing) mold to prove to the kids why they shouldn't pick their noses, or discussing acids and bases while creating "volcanic" eruptions.

The kitchen is a natural place to start doing science experiments. Cooking is basically science that you can eat. That's why most kitchens already have many of the ingredients needed to do the three science experiments below.

Safety note: I recommend that kids do not perform these experiments, especially without adult supervision. The first and third experiments require you to use a stove.

Rock candy

Crystals are fun to grow and study, and there are many crystal experiments that you can easily and safely do at home. Making your own rock candy by growing sugar crystals is an experiment in over-saturation. Watching the crystals form really is more fun than watching paint dry; plus, you can impress your friends with your awesome candy making skills.

What you need
  • 3-5 cups of white sugar (or as much sugar as needed to over-saturate the water with sugar)
  • Enough water to fill all the intended vessels
  • A cooking pot or kettle
  • Blunt wooden skewers
  • Clothespins
  • Clean glasses or jars
  • Clean towel
  • Flavored oils (not necessary, but you may want to use)
What you do

Boil the water in the cooking pot or kettle. Once the water is at a good boil, fill each of the glasses or jars about two-thirds full with boiling water. Working quickly, stir the sugar into each container until the sugar no longer dissolves. When you see sugar on the bottom of the jar, you've added enough sugar.

Now use the clothespins to hold the wooden skewers inside the jars by clamping the skewers with the pins and laying the pins across the top of the jar openings. The skewers shouldn't touch the jars at all. You can add food coloring to get colored rock candy, and even use kitchen oils such as chocolate oil, peppermint oil, or pineapple oil to flavor the candy. Cover the jars with a clean towel to keep particles out. In a couple of days, the sugar will re-crystallize on the wooden skewers, thus creating rock candy!

Take the skewers out, microwave the jars, stir the sugar up from the bottom of the jars, and then put new skewers in and repeat the crystallization process. You can usually get 2-3 rock candy pops out of one super-saturated jar of sugar water.

Disappearing ink

Everybody loves writing hidden messages. Disappearing ink is surprisingly simple to make.

What you need
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Purple grape juice or a regular light bulb
  • Paper
  • Cotton swabs or small paint brush
  • White paper
What you do

Make a paste of equal parts baking soda and water. Use the cotton swabs or paint brush to write a message on a sheet of white paper. To read the message, paint the paper with purple grape juice. This creates an acid-base reaction between the baking soda and the grape juice, which causes the writing to show up in a different color.

To avoid a mess, read the message by holding the paper up to a regular light bulb. The baking soda will react to the heat, and the message will show as brown lettering.

Borax crystals

Borax crystals grow quickly, are non-toxic (but don't eat them), and are simple to make. This is done almost exactly like the rock candy project, but Borax crystals aren't edible or sticky, so they make pretty ornaments to hang in windows or props for your favorite RPG.

What you need
  • Borax (sold in the laundry aisle)
  • Water
  • Chenille stems
  • Wide mouth jars
  • String
  • A kitchen knife
  • Clean cloth
  • Food coloring (not necessary, but you may want to use)
What you do

Put the water on to boil. While you wait, use the chenille stems to make whatever shape you want the crystals to be. Tie a piece of string to the chenille stem shape, and then wrap the string around a knife. You will suspend the chenille stem shape inside the jar by laying the knife across the mouth of the jar.

Pour the boiling water into the jar, and then stir in Borax until the solution is super-saturated. You are done when no more Borax will dissolve in the water (you will see it falling to the bottom). Then insert the chenille stem shape so that it does not touch the bottom or sides of the jar. Lay the knife across the mouth of the jar to keep the shape suspended. Cover the mouth of the jar with a clean cloth to keep particles from falling in.

You can also add food coloring to the water to grow colored crystals. The crystals will begin to form on the chenille stem shape within hours. As the water cools, it can hold less Borax, so the Borax crystals cling to the chenille stem. By the time the water is cooled to room temperature, the crystal is fully formed.

A Borax crystal I made at home. The blue is from the chenille stem, not food coloring. (Credit: Nicole Bremer Nash)

Home science experiments

Do you do science experiments at home? If so, what projects have you successfully pulled off?