Wednesday 4 April 2012

Weird Science

I like to kid about my relationship with my mother in-law, pretending she intimidates me etc., but the truth is I think she's great.  One of the things I like about her is that she's a science geek.  She passed her love of science on to my husband and our mutual interest in the subject is one of the pillars of our marriage.

Recently, Mother Rotten signed my kids up for a science club program at the local, government run and funded, drop-in play centre.  Canada's government is very passionate about early childhood education.  After you turn five though, you're screwed.  It's mostly for Frack to get some social interaction but since we're homeschooling, Frick comes too.

The first of the day's experiments was to make "elephant toothpaste".  In theory it is a pretty cool experiment and looks like a lot of fun.  In fact I checked out all of the experiments conducted online and they are all terrific science exercises that would be great fun and very educational for you to do with your kids.  One of the three ladies conducting the experiment (let's call them Larry, Curly and Moe) promised the kids they were going to see stuff shoot out of a soda bottle real high, almost to the ceiling!

Oh boy!

Which of course stirred Frick's imagination with fantasies of Mentos and Diet Coke, inducing him to hint not-so-subtly at the subject periodically throughout the afternoon.  I think he was hoping if he mentioned it enough someone would magically produce the necessary materials from their purse and we would all proceed to create an orchestral display of exploding diet coke bottles.

They brought out the necessary items to make the elephant toothpaste: an empty soda bottle, some dish soap, some peroxide, some food colouring and some yeast.  I began to question their scientific competence when, in attempt to keep the kids interested, they decided to toss the ingredients in the soda bottle with dramatic flourishes as if they were doing the witches' scene from Macbeth instead of being more careful to be sure the stuff actually got in.  I should also mention that at no point did anyone don safety goggles.  I hear hydrogen peroxide in your eye hurts like a bitch.

When they added the yeast they were supposed to dissolve it in water but they didn't give it enough time so it turned into a big gluey mess that got stuck in the funnel they were ineffectively using.  Also, Moe used boiling water instead of warm water which is a fairly decent way to kill yeast if that's what you're trying to do.  Apparently living yeast was the key ingredient because the end results were pretty underwhelming.

Undaunted, they bravely put a good face on it and then Moe came out with this little gem:

"Hey, this is real science people.  It doesn't always work."

Uh, I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of science, Moe.  Nice work.

"Science.  It doesn't always work." -Isaac Newton

The next experiment was making home made lava lamps, which involved filling containers with water, oil and food colouring.  Oh neat!  I knew how that was going to turn out and thought the kids would like it.  Until Larry gave all the kids alka-seltzer tablets, told them to put the lids on the containers and shake them up.  If you read the instructions they are pretty specific about not putting the lid on until after all the fizzing stops and nowhere do they tell anyone to shake up anything.

I made my kids take their lids off when they were done shaking, which I felt was safe because they had wide-mouth mason jars, but the boy sitting next to them had his in a plastic water bottle.  I spent the next ten minutes staring at that water bottle.  It was so full of gas from the alka-seltzer that the bottom of the bottle was distended and it wouldn't sit flat on the table.  I was sure that the kid would choose this moment to open the bottle, thereby spewing its coloured lava lamp contents all over the place (and on my kids) but thankfully he didn't.  The pressure building up in that baby probably would have made it hit the ceiling.

For their next trick, Curly set up an empty soda bottle on the table while Moe came over with her kettle of boiling water, waving it around dangerously dramatically just before pouring it into the bottle.  Ever have one of those moments when every fibre of your being wanted to jump up and stop someone from doing something?  No cheap, recyclable soda bottle is meant to handle that kind of heat!  What are you thinking!?!

There was a brief moment of panic as the bottom of the soda bottle threatened to melt and pour boiling water onto the table and nearby children.  Curly at least had the sense to stop Moe from pouring any more.  I looked it up.  The original instructions only said to use hot water, not boiling water.

They put a lid on the bottle and then put the bottle in an ice bucket, pouring cold water on top.  The bottle shrunk and the kids "ooh"ed and "aah"ed appropriately.  Frick had been studying chemistry recently, so I asked him if he could guess how it was happening.  His attempt was interrupted by Curly, who informed him that:

"The pressure of the air on the outside was pushing in on the bottle forcing the air in the bottle out through the top."

Whaaa?  The know-it-all student that lives inside me wanted to shout out "That's not right!" but I settled for waiting until she wasn't looking in my direction so I could quickly shake my head "No" at Frick.  And then Mother Rotten piped up.

"Really?  The air gets out even though there's a lid on the container?"

I love her.

I can't remember exactly what Professor Curly here had to say about that, just that it was equally ridiculous and misinformed.

Finally, there was a little extra time at the end and Larry, Curly and Moe really wanted to give that elephant toothpaste shooting up to the ceiling trick another try.  They figured that if they added a lot more peroxide than the recipe called for it would make it more potent.  It was more potent but I think that might have been because they mixed the yeast properly this time.  There was more foam but nothing that jumped up to the ceiling.  And then Moe said:

"Hey kids!  Let's see what happens when we add all kinds of stuff to this!"  Which got all three women to start tossing all kinds of household substances into the mix, willy nilly.  As a person who has worked in many crappy jobs and received some very basic WHMIS training, this is maybe the worst idea I have ever heard.

Did you know that if you take some Windex and mix it with some Clorox you could make chlorine gas (toxic to breathe) or nitrogen trichloride (explosive) or hydrazine (used in rocket fuel)?  Lots of people have accidentally injured or killed themselves trying to make a stronger cleaner.

I began to get very nervous when I noticed the smoky vapours emerging from the bottle.  Fortunately, whatever they poured in next stabilized the material and I am still around to tell you the tale, but shit!  Responsible adults should never tell kids to mix up chemicals just to "see what happens".  Ever.

You know I'm pretty sure to have that job you have to have a college diploma.  I can't wait to see what Larry, Curly and Moe are cooking up for next week.  Yes, I am going back.  Someone has to keep an eye on them.

1 comment:

  1. So funny, and so great that you and your evil mother in law are so supportive!! Oh, by the way, there is a new Three Stooges movie coming out this month - - you may want to take frick and frack!