Program 39: The return of candy experiments!

I knew I had to plan something special for the first G3 program of 2015…and during a school vacation week no less! What better than a program that brings our scientists close to something they know and love so well:  CANDY.

My scientists loved this program when we did it back in September of 2013. At that time, I designed the program to include some videos about how some popular candies are made (e.g., M&Ms, marshmallows, cotton candy). If you’re interested in seeing those videos, they are linked to the post from my previous program.

Candy Experiments 2 by Loralee Leavitt

Candy Experiments 2 by Loralee Leavitt

Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt

Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt

Part of my inspiration for doing this program was that Loralee Leavitt just released a followup book to her original Candy Experiments book. The majority of my experiments still came from the first book, but I was able to put some fun twists on things thanks to suggestions from her newest book. Her second book would be a great take-home for any budding scientist looking for some fun science fair project ideas (or for some fun science exploration at home) since many of the projects span a longer time frame that I am able to accommodate during my one-hour program time. As a reminder to my home readers, there is also a fun companion web site with some online experiment instructions. And as always, one of my favorite science fellas – Steve Spangler – provided some fun experiment suggestions as well…


We had an ambitious list of experiments that I wanted to do for the day, so I didn’t even bother creating a presentation with youtube videos and the like (which I usually do) Instead, we jumped right into the experiments themselves. 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! 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. None of my scientists that day noted allergies to nuts and/or other foods, but I wanted them to be aware of the need for caution when working with food regardless.

The experiments we focused on for the day were:

  1. “Color Mixing” using gobstoppers and starlight mints
  2. “Floating Letters” using M&Ms and Skittles  (there are also great details about this experiment on Steve Spangler’s web site)
  3. “Candy Chromatography” using black jelly beans (via the Steve Spangler web site)
  4. “Wormy Cotton Candy”
  5. “Defying Gravity with Slime” using cotton candy
  6. “The Cotton Candy Sponge”
  7. “Snap, Crackle, Pop Rocks” using Pop Rocks
  8. DEMONSTRATION:  “Popcorn Pop Rocks”
  9. “Squash the Unsinkable” using 3 Musketeers mini bars
  10. “Unsticky It” using large marshmallows




  • Gobstoppers candies, several colors per scientist (I ordered some Wonka gobstoppers from
  • Starlight mint candies, 1 per scientist (I used both the green striped and the red striped candies)
  • Plates (must be able to hold liquid)
  • Some water (I distribute recycled bottles filled with water amongst my tables for the kids to use throughout the program)

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!

We definitely did not get enough time with this cool experiment back in 2013, so I put it top of my list for this month. This “color mixing” 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. You want the gobstoppers close but not touching – about 1-2 inches apart. The color coatings 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!

Using the same plate, my scientists then put one each of the green and red striped starlight mints into the same plate/water. When the Starlight mint is placed in the water, the candy actually dissolves in stripes! The red and white stripes (or green and white stripes) stay separated for a time due to the variance in the sugar content in the surrounding water as it dissolves.



  • Snack sized packs of M&Ms and Skittles (or you can just make sure that you portion the candy in a way that each scientists gets several of each)
  • Small, clear cups (I used the Diamond mini-cups that I found at Wal-mart)
  • Some 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 up. Over the course of 5-10 minutes, as the colored candy coatings 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!



  • Black jelly beans (1 for each scientist)
  • Filter paper (1 for each scientist) – I used 11 cm. filter paper bought via that I still had in stock from when the G3 crew experimented with color, but you can also use coffee filters for this
  • Pipettes (I LOVE pipettes! You can use them for so many things; I buy them in bulk from Amazon)
  • Water

Chromatography is a term used to describe the separation of mixtures, usually with the help of a fluid. And that’s just what we wanted to do. The purpose of this experiment was to discover what different colors are used to make the black coating for black jelly beans. Each scientist placed their black jelly bean on the filter paper, and then added water using their pipettes (eyedroppers). Then you just have to sit back and wait for 10-15 min. or so as the water starts to dissolve and separate the black candy coating. You can really see the colors on the filter paper best when the paper actually dries, so I sent all of my scientists home with their papers. But even before it dried, our scientists were seeing that blue, green, pink and purple were all colors that helped to make our jelly beans black. As noted on Steve Spangler’s site:

Although the black jellybean appears to be black, the dyes that comprise the color are actually many. You can see the different dyes as they move up the filter paper. These dyes separate from each other because some dyes are more attracted to the paper while others are more soluble in water. These differences result in varying distances from the jellybean.



  • Charms Fluffy Stuff cotton candy packs, 1 per scientist (this is hard to find in stores, though I have seen some at the Dollar Store near me; this time around I just ordered from Amazon)
  • Plates (I used plastic plates since I had them in stock – you will be adding water to the plate so make sure it is sturdy/coated)
  • Small plastic cups with water in them
  • Small plastic cups with vegetable oil in them (there should be a couple of inches of oil in the cup)
  • Pipettes (see, I use them constantly! 🙂 )
  • Water

Back in 2013, one of my crew’s favorite experiments of the day was “Defying Gravity with Slime” using cotton candy. Thanks to Ms. Leavitt’s recent book, I was able to add two super fun variations to our experiments with cotton candy!

My first instruction was for each scientist to separate their cotton candy into four equal parts. Why four parts, you ask, if there are only three experiments? Well, my scientists are always obsessed with the idea of being able to take some cotton candy home with them…for eating. This ensures that they have a little chunk to take home with them 🙂

Cotton Candy Part 1: “Wormy Cotton Candy”

I asked the scientists to put one piece of their cotton candy down on a DRY plate (it is VERY important that the plate is dry since cotton candy reacts dramatically to water). Using a pipette, each scientist then slowly dropped water onto the cotton candy…drop by drop. The result is amazing! Wherever the water touches, it completely dissolves the fluffy cotton candy into a very small piece of gooey sugar water. By adding the water drop-by-drop with the pipette, each scientist can really see how this happens. It looks the way a piece of wood might if a worm was tunneling through! Some of my scientists carefully added water in a specific way so they could create their very own cotton candy sculptures. Others saw what was happening and squeezed a lot of water onto the cotton candy in one go so they could confirm how water really does dissolve it into almost nothing.

Cotton Candy Part 2: “Defying Gravity with Slime”

I now asked the scientists to take a fresh piece of the cotton candy and dip the bottom tip in the small cup with fresh water in it. And behold! The water travels lightning quick UP the cotton candy until all of the cotton candy dissolves into a dripping, 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.]

Cotton Candy Part 3: “The Cotton Candy Sponge”

As far as I’m concerned, this experiment was the coolest – and yuckiest – one in the bunch. We know that cotton candy dissolves very quickly in water, but what happens when you dunk it into VEGETABLE OIL?  For this final experiment, my scientists took the final piece of cotton candy and dunked it into the cup that had a few inches of vegetable oil in it. The result? The cotton candy does not dissolve! It actually absorbs the oil, turning kind of translucent and gelatinous-looking in the process. Yuck! Some of my scientists wanted to see what would happen if they took the gooey blob of cotton candy/vegetable oil and now dunked it in the cup with the water. What they discovered is that the parts of the cotton candy that had not fully absorbed the oil now dissolved in the water, but the majority of the cotton candy floated rather sludge-like in the water cup!


Materials for experiment:

  • 1 pack of Pop Rocks for each scientists (Caution: Do not buy the Pop Rocks GUM…I learned that the hard way)
  • 1 cup with water

Materials for demonstration:

  • 1 pack of Pop Rocks
  • 1-2 tablespoons of hot water (I just used a Keurig machine to put some plain hot water in a cup)

For the experiment, I had everyone sample some of the Pop Rocks by pouring some into their mouths and then describing what they were feeling/hearing.  I then had all of the scientists pour some Pop Rocks into a cup of room-temperature 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).

I chose to do the “Popcorn Pop Rocks” as a demonstration only because ideally each child should wear safety goggles if they are doing this one (and I don’t have enough to go around a large group). I gathered our group at a safe distance from where I sat, and had them watch as I poured 1-2 tablespoons of HOT water into a clear plastic cup. [NOTE: This experiment works best with a small amount of hot water, so don’t overfill!] I then pour some Pop Rocks directly into the cup. The result? Pop Rocks exploded up and out of the cup! In fact, it was several hours post-program before I realized that I still had some Pop Rocks in my hair 🙂 Why does this happen? The hot water dissolves the candy of the Pop Rocks so quickly that the trapped carbon dioxide pockets literally explode as they are released.

Photo Feb 18, 4 48 46 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 49 43 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 49 44 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 48 56 PMPhoto Feb 18, 4 49 49 PM



  • Mini 3 Musketeers bars (2 for each scientist)
  • Tall, clear plastic cups filled with water

NOTE: 3 Musketeers are NOT safe for kids with nut allergies.

First, our scientists dropped a mini 3 Musketeers bar directly 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. [I originally told them to pound it flat, but the little candy bar was resistant to pounding, so I amended my instructions and told them to squeeze it flat using their fingers.] 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!]



  • 1 bag of campfire sized marshmallows (enough for 1 marshmallow per scientist)
  • A cup with some water in it (I just had the scientists use some water from the 3 Musketeers cup from the previous experiment)

I always save this final experiment for the end because it is super simple, super quick, and something that is easy to take off of the roster for the day if time runs short. 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!

When all was finished, my scientists left the room buzzing about the experiments…and eager to sample whatever candy they had managed to set aside during the course of the program 🙂

Categories: Chemical Reactions, Color | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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