Program 38: Fun with Things that Glow!

Okay. So for our final G3 program of 2014, I wanted to do projects that were extremely simple but with a big “wow!” factor. I discovered both projects after a little exploring online and a peek at my favorite Steve Spangler Science web site. Who doesn’t love to see things glow in the dark?!… πŸ™‚

I started us off with a fun presentation about “things that glow.” We learned that there are three major kinds of glowing:

  1. Fluorescence (glows when a black light is on)
  2. Phosphorescence (similar to fluorescence, but with a glow that can last even after the black light is turned off)
  3. Bioluminescence (from living organisms, like creatures that live in the deepest parts of the oceans; or fireflies)

I had trouble showing this video during the program, but this video does a great job of explaining the difference between fluorescence and bioluminescence:

We played a little with my black lights as well. Did you know that tonic water will glow bright blue under a black light in the dark?! The quinine in the tonic water reacts to the UV light from the black light. Vaseline (petroleum jelly) also has the same effect under a black light; you can even write secret messages on black paper to test this one out in the dark. There are a lot of things that will glow in the dark under a black light. What kinds of things have you discovered that glow in the dark with a black light?…

article-2036217-0DD29C3000000578-446_634x634One of my favorite discoveries to share with the G3 scientists was the work that modern scientists have been doing with real-world glow-in-the-dark animals! They’ve created cats, sheep, dogs, rabbits, and even monkeys that glow in the dark. For example, in 2007, South Korean scientists altered a cat’s DNA to make it glow in the dark and then took that DNA and cloned other cats from it β€” creating a set of fluffy, fluorescent felines. Why? It might give scientists a better way to track the progress of certain diseases in a living form and to figure out ways to create cures for things like AIDS. The short CNN video below briefly discusses the work of the South Korean scientists in particular with some great shots of the actual glow-in-the-dark cats:

American-firm-genetically-engineers-worlds-first-glow-in-the-dark-plant-_dezeen_4Scientists and other researchers are even working on creating glow-in-the-dark plants and trees as a way to develop an alternative light source. Imagine if some day you could walk down a city street under the light of trees instead of street lamps! However the science for this may have a ways to go since the amount of light the plants can generate appears to be significantly less than the fluorescent light from something like a street lamp… The video below showcases an example of the type of work being done in this area:

seadevil-d695-2_86346_990x742And if you ever want to watch some really fascinating footage about the deepest ocean and the kinds of creatures that live there, there are a lot of videos online…but you can start by checking out this National Geographic video about the anglerfish. VERY weird and super interesting creature!…

Now for our fun experiments of the day!…

EXPERIMENT 1:Β  Glow lava


  • Baby oil (you can probably also use cooking oil, but I went with the completely clear baby oil; I bought value sized bottles at Walmart)
  • Glow-in-the-dark paint (you can also you the fluorescent coloring from a highlighter pen, but I thought the paint would be less messy than breaking open a bunch of highlighters)
  • Zip-seal clear sandwich bags
  • Clear packing tape
  • Warm water
  • Clear plastic cups with spoons for stirring
  • Tablespoon

I got the idea for this experiment from the blog Glowing a Jeweled Rose. It can be used with much younger children as well, but I suspected that my G3 scientists would love to get their hands on this fun bag of glow lava…and I was correct! First, you need to water down the glow-in-the-dark paint. I used a can of green glow paint from the Disney line (at Walmart). Before the program started, I put one full tablespoon of glow paint in each clear plastic cup. Doing this in a lighted room also gives the paint a chance to absorb as much light as possible before the scientists take part in the project. After I passed out the paint-filled cups to my crew, I walked around with my pitcher filled with pre-heated water and just poured enough water in each cup to fill maybe 1/3-1/2 of the cup. The scientists were instructed to stir until most of the paint had dissolved and they had a watery, milky liquid in their cups. [NOTE: I did have one scientist who stirred with a little too much force, and she got scared/startled when some of the warm liquid hit her bare hand. So be sure to instruct your scientists to stir carefully!]

I then passed around economy sized bottles of baby oil (also purchased at Walmart) for the kids to share at each table. I asked them to pour enough baby oil in the sandwich bags to get about 1-2 inches of oil in the bag. [NOTE: I was conservative because I wanted to make sure that we didn’t run out of baby oil, but I had plenty left over so the scientists could have easily gone to a full 1/4-1/3 bag of baby oil.]

After the oil was in the bag, I asked the scientists to add 1-4 tablespoons of the watered down paint to the bag, zip the bag closed (with as little extra air in the bag as possible), and then we sealed the opening with clear plastic tape to ensure it didn’t pop open while we played with the bags. To be honest, this turned out to be the trickiest step since many of my scientists got extra baby oil on the outside of the bags and we were having a hard time getting tape to actually stick around the opening.

At this point, the bags now function like a pretty cool lava lamp, since the watery paint does not mix with the oil. The big “wow!” effect happens when you get every scientist in their seats and turn off all the lights. The happy screams didn’t die down for quite some time πŸ™‚ I let our scientists play with the glow lava for a while…until I started to notice glowing bags twirling around in the air above their heads. Cue lights!

EXPERIMENT #2: “Vampire Veins”


  • 1 Vampire Veins Insta-Worms kit from ($34.99) In the kit you receive:
    • 32 oz (1 liter) of Vampire Vein Worm Goo
    • 60 grams (2.1 oz) of Worm Activator Powder
    • Blue measuring scoop
    • 4 oz Worm Goo bottle
    • Handheld Battery Powered Black Light (Four AA-batteries not included) [NOTE: I had a lot of trouble finding a black light, so it was fantastic this kit included one. It’s small, but you can walk around the room and share the “wow!” moment with each scientist.]
    • Activity guide
  • Clear plastic cups
  • Spoons for stirring
  • Warm water
  • Squeeze bottles with a tapered opening – I used Wilton brand 6-ounce Mini Decorating Squeeze Bottles which I bought on Amazon for about $2/pair (I needed about 20…but I was fine with this expense because I’m sure I’ll use these handy bottles again in the future)

Any of you reading my blog may have noticed that one of my favorite science subjects is “polymers.” There are just so many cool things you can do with them. While this project/experiment has incredibly easy steps, it’s a LOT of fun. Prior to the program, I used the little blue measuring scoop and put one scoop of the white Worm Activator Powder in each scientist’s clear plastic cup. [I put it in 17 cups and still had extra to spare.] Also prior to the program, I poured a couple of inches of the green Vampire Vein Goo into each squeeze bottle. [I basically just made sure I had an even amount in each of the 17 squeeze bottles.]

After passing out the cups to my scientists, I again walked around with pre-warmed water and poured about a cup of water into each of their cups. They stirred until the white powder had dissolved, and then the fun began. They simply needed to hold the squeeze bottles above the cup of now milky water and squeeze the green Vampire Vein Goo directly into the cup. Instantly the solid worm chains form! How does this work? Basically, the white powder is a calcium solution that helps the polymers in the Vampire Vein Goo form chains as soon as the two solutions come in contact with each other. The best part of this experiment is that when you turn out the lights, you can make the “worms” glow in the dark under the black light!

There were endless screams of delight around the room for BOTH experiments when the lights went out. It was one of those programs that I wished we had more time with. I definitely splurged a little on supplies for this one, but it was the last G3 program of the year and I wanted us to leave 2014 with a lot of pizazz πŸ™‚ We’re taking January off, but we’ll be back to our scientific ways in February. Happy holidays to everyone, and be sure to check out the video below highlighting the fun we had with this program.

Categories: Glow in the Dark, Polymers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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