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5 chemistry activities you can do at home
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pH experiment - photo by Carrie Rogers-Whitehead
You don't need a lab to learn about chemistry.

The simple and inexpensive activities, found below, will teach basic chemistry principles from your own kitchen.

1. Carbon Dioxide, Oxygen And Nitrogen

Background: Nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen are in the air around us. We cant see them or smell them, but we breathe them in and out all the time along with other types of gas that is in the air. We need nitrogen, but we cant get it from breathing. Nitrogen comes mostly from the vegetables we eat. Plants need nitrogen too. They pull it up through their roots. And when we eat the plant, we absorb the nitrogen the plant stored up inside.

The experiment: Get three identical plants. Label the pot they are in with tape and marker that says water, plant food, and extra plant food. Give the first one just water. Give the second one plant food with nitrogen in it, like Miracle Grow for Tomatoes, as directed. Give the third plant double the amount of fertilizer to water mix it is supposed to have. Compare the plants each day.

Questions: Which one grows best? Is one getting sick?

2. Oxygen and carbon dioxide

Background: Did you know that the air we breathe is balanced just right for all life on earth? If there was more oxygen, fires would be harder to put out. This is because fire needs oxygen in order complete the process of burning. If there was less oxygen, we might have a harder time breathing and lighting fires.

The experiment: Lets make some carbon dioxide. When you mix vinegar and baking soda together, there is a chemical reaction. The molecules break apart and reform in a different way, turning into water and carbon dioxide gas.

Now for the fun part! Under parental supervision, gather a small candle, a small paper cup to put the candle in, a piece of string about a foot long, a hole puncher, some vinegar, some baking soda, matches and two cups large enough to hold the candle.

First cut the top from the paper cup so the sides are about an inch high. Punch a hole in each side and tie the string to make a small bucket. Sprinkle a tablespoon of baking soda in one cup and pour enough vinegar in the other cup to be about a fourth of an inch deep. Light the candle and place it in the cup with the baking soda. The candle keeps burning. Now place the candle in the cup of vinegar. The candle still keeps burning.

Now add the vinegar to the baking soda and let it fizz. When the fizzing begins to calm down, lower the candle very slowly into the cup. Watch the flame as this happens. Relight the candle if you need to and measure where the flame begins to go out. Keep relighting the candle and putting it down in the cup.

Questions: What happens? After several trips into the cup, does the candle burn better? Why?

3. pH

Background: pH is a numeric scale that tells you how acidic or alkaline a liquid solution is. Solutions with a pH less than seven are acidic, and over seven are alkaline or basic. This experiment will help you see pH in a colorful way.

The experiment: Gather a small amount of red cabbage, a pot or bowl to cook the cabbage in, several plastic spoons and various clear or almost clear liquids around the house.

Under parental supervision, slice up the red cabbage and put it in a small pot or bowl. Simmer on the stove or in the microwave until boiling. Reduce the heat and let it steep and cool until you have some deep purple juice. Get a white plate or paper towel, and carefully drop each of the liquids in a circle on it. Dont let them touch and also wash and dry the spoon between any of the liquids you put it in. Once you have the liquids on the plate, drip a little of the red caggage juice on each one. What happens?

The cabbage juice contains a chemical that reacts with acids and bases. Those that are acids turn pink. Those that turn blue or green are bases. Those that stay purple are neutral in other words they arent acid or base, but a balance of the two.

4. Mixtures

Background: A mixture is made by combining two or more materials together in a way that no chemical reaction occurs, and where the materials can usually be separated. This very simple experiment is an easy way to introduce children to chemistry. What child doesnt love to mix things together?

The experiment: Get two bowls. In one stir salt and water together, in the other just water. Using your sense of taste and smell, compare the salt water to plain water. After smelling the salt water, talk about oceans including our own local ocean," the Great Salt Lake. After mixing salt and water, mix other materials together and see if you can separate the materials.

5. Chemical Reactions

Background: Baking soda volcanos arent just for fourth grade science fairs. People of all ages can delight in the reaction between baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid). These volcanoes are also a great way to demonstrate chemical reactions, a process that leads to a transformation of one chemical substance to another.

The experiment: Our volcano was made of salt dough surrounding a plastic container. Fill the container part-way with baking soda and place the volcano in the middle of a Dollar Store dinosaur country. Add vinegar to the volcano and watch the bubbles spew up and over the volcano, then flow like hot lava and cover the landscape.

Expand upon the dinosaur theme by creating a dry dough out of water and baking soda. Add food coloring if desired and form the dough around a plastic dinosaur forming an egg. Let it dry overnight. Fill a spray bottle with vinegar and let your kids hatch the eggs.
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