Another Fall for G3, and so many new faces putting on our lab coats and diving into our nifty experiments!
For our first program of the Fall, and with so many kids running low on energy trying to adjust to the harsh return of homework and other school activities, I thought a perfect first program would be experiments with a high sugar content. Candy! And not just a little candy. . .LOTS of candy (yum!)
As always, we started the day with some fun youtube videos. The G3 scientists got a peek at how M&Ms, marshmallows, and cotton candy are all made. Check out the videos below…
How M&Ms Are Made (CNN Money)
How Marshmallows Are Made (The Campfire Brand Mystery Tour)
How Cotton Candy is Made (Bytesize Science)
My source of inspiration was the wonderful book by Loralee Levitt called Candy Experiments. [For those of you who can't wait until the next time you're in the library to check out the book, there is also a terrific candy experiments web site that is tied to the book's content.] Many of the experiments we did came directly from her book, though a few were also inspired by Steve Spangler.
WARNING: SOME PEOPLE HAVE ALLERGIES TO NUTS, AND MANY CANDIES CAN BE LITERALLY LIFE-THREATENING BECAUSE THEY EITHER CONTAIN NUTS OR POSSIBLY COME IN CONTACT WITH NUTS DURING PRODUCTION IN FACTORIES. BE SURE TO READ CANDY PACKAGES CAREFULLY – AND WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL THE MANUFACTURER! We even had a few G3 scientists with nut allergies present. One of the most important rules for scientists is “be safe!” Thus, all of our G3 scientists wore latex-free and powder-free nylon gloves to protect their hands, lab coats to protect their bodies, and special instructions to be careful about where there candy was at all times.
The experiments we focused on for the day were:
- “Skin the Candy” using candy corn
- “Floating Letters” using M&Ms and Skittles (there are also great details about this experiment on Steve Spangler’s web site)
- “Snap, Crackle, Pop Rocks” using Pop Rocks
- “Squash the Unsinkable” using 3 Musketeers mini bars
- “Defying Gravity with Slime” using cotton candy
- “Color Mixing” using gobstoppers and starlight mints
- “Unsticky It” using large marshmallows
In Track A, we ran out of time and were not able to complete experiments #6 and 7, but I at least made sure the scientists in Track A went home with packets of Willy Wonka gobstoppers and starlight mints so they could do that simple (and super cool) experiment from home.
Our scientists loved watching the candy corn begin to dissolve in a small cup of water. As the candy corn sat in the water, the outer shell – the confectioner’s glaze – slowly separated from the candy and floated to the surface of the water. It looked like a snake skin! Our scientists also noted that some bubbles formed on the candy corn while some trapped air escaped from the candy, and the orange and yellow colors also dissolved in the water.
NOTE: M&Ms are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies, but Skittles ARE.
Our scientists dropped some Skittles and M&Ms in a small cup filled with room temperature water, letter side and up. Over the course of 5-10 minutes, as the colors started to dissolve in the water, the letters on the candies (either “s” or “m”) slowly separated from the candies and floated to the surface of the water! The candy makers actually use an ink that is NOT soluble in water to write the letters on the candy; in other words, the letters don’t dissolve in the water – they stay intact!
SNAP, CRACKLE, POP ROCKS
Test one – I had everyone eat a package of the Pop Rocks. Most of our scientists had never even heard of Pop Rocks! Many of the scientists did not like the sensation, saying it felt too “prickly” on their tongues. Others described it as “weird” and as “mini explosions” on their tongues. I then had all of the scientists pour some Pop Rocks into a cup of water. We could hear the sound of the Pop Rocks popping all around the room! As the Pop Rocks dissolved in the water, they also bounced up and down in the cups. Pop Rocks have something in common with soda: carbon dioxide. Just as manufacturers compress carbon dioxide and pump it into soda to give us the fun fizz and bubbles, they also compress and pump carbon dioxide into the candy that becomes Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks candies contain many tiny pockets of carbon dioxide. As they dissolve on your tongue (or in a glass of water), those tiny pockets of gas are released with a small popping sensation (or sound).
SQUASH THE UNSINKABLE
NOTE: 3 Musketeers are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies.
First, our scientists dropped a mini 3 Musketeers bar into a cup of water. What happened? It floated! I then had them smash a second 3 Musketeers bar so that it was super flat, and then drop it into the same cup of water. Did it also float? NO. 3 Musketeers bars are made with a lot of air – that’s why the nougat center is so light and fluffy. When you flatten out the candy bar, you push out a lot of the air that keeps it floating (or buoyant). [See our previous G3 post about buoyancy!]
DEFYING GRAVITY WITH SLIME
Each scientists received a chunk of condensed cotton candy [I used the Fluffy Stuff brand]. I asked them to simply touch a tip of the cotton candy to the water in one of their glasses. As the scientists gasped and exclaimed, they witnessed how a large blob of cotton candy almost instantly dissolved into a few drops of sugary goo. How did this happen? Well, the sugar crystals and fibers of the cotton candy are so tightly woven that they create a stronger attraction for water molecules than even the downward pull of the force of gravity! Thus, the water quickly travels UP the cotton candy, dissolving the delicate fibers into goo. The same effect can be seen when you touch a paper towel to water.
NOTE: Starlight Mints are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies – they are produced in a factory where they can come into contact with nuts!
Gobstoppers & Starlight Mints
This experiment produces a really cool effect. Gobstopper candies are created with many different colored layers. As you suck on the candy, each layer dissolves to reveal a different colored layer underneath. Manufacturers need to make the sugar candy coatings of various colors in a unique way to ensure that the colors don’t mix during production and stay separate. We tested this by placing gobstoppers of different colors into a small paper plate with a layer of water in it. The color begins to quickly dissolve, but it’s like there’s an invisible wall between the colors. The red doesn’t mix with the purple, the green doesn’t mix with the yellow, etc. At least for a time, all of the colors stay completely separated! And when the Starlight mint is placed in the water, the candy actually dissolves in stripes! The red stripes stay separated for a time due to the variance in the sugar content in the surrounding water as it dissolves.
For our final experiment of the day, I had the scientists rip a large marshmallow in half and describe the texture of the marshmallow in its center. “Very sticky” is how almost everyone described it. I had the scientists touch the sticky edge of a marshmallow center to the water in their cups and then describe the texture to me again. Many said it became “slimy” or “smooth.” The explanation? When marshmallows are made, the corn syrup molecules do not form complete crystals. When you first pull the marshmallow apart, the stickiness is the result of those molecules looking for ways to connect with other molecules. When you dip the sticky edge in water, the corn syrup molecules form bonds with the water molecules and thus no longer are clinging to your finger looking to create similar bonds!
There was plenty of candy for our eager (and hungry) scientists to nibble on as we wrapped up the day (and even some extra nibbles for the younger siblings who lingered in the room to watch the experiments). I wonder what we’ll be doing next?…