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With a few simple technology and art supplies, you can put together a simple kit that lets kids design and build bristle bots, art bots and light-up creatures.

CD Bots from "STEAM Lab for Kids" (by Liz Heinecke, Quarry Books 2018) - YouTube

The Science Behind the Fun: Hooking an unbalanced spinning toy motor  to a brush sends vibrations through the bristles. The vibrating bristles move the brush, and anything attached to it, around on a flat surface.  Make a disc robot by attaching toothbrushes to a CD and attaching a motor, or make a drawing robot with legs made of pens.

Art Bot from “STEAM Lab for Kids” (Quarry Books 2018)

Light Up Creatures from “STEAM Lab for Kids” (Quarry Books 2018)

CD Bot from “STEAM Lab for Kids” (Quarry Books 2018)

I’ve included ideas for items to put in a kit, along with a tech supply list and photos of the robots from STEAM Lab for Kids. Use your imagination for art supplies! Pair the kit with a book, like STEAM Lab for Kids (Amazon.com), which has instructions for making bristle bots, art bots and light-up creatures, or let tech-savvy kids take the reigns and start building!

Homemade robotics kit- kitchenpantryscientist.com

LEDs, alligator clip test leads, toy motors and batteries let kids assemble simple circuits. (Supply list below photo)

tech components for robot kit- kitchenpantryscientist.com

Basic 3mm and 5mm through-hole LEDs (Art Bot, CD Bot, Light-Up Creature)

Small alligator clip test leads (Art Bot, CD Bot, Light-Up Creature)

AA battery holders (Art Bot, CD Bot )

AA batteries and 9V batteries (Art Bot, CD Bot )

9V battery clip snap-on connectors (battery snaps)  

3V coin cell batteries (Light-Up Creature)

Mini electric motor for DIY toys (1500 rpm) for Art Bot, CD Bot

USA https://www.amazon.com

Canada https://www.amazon.ca

Paper and plastic cups, brushes, toothbrushes, duct tape, zip-ties, and CDs all make great building supplies, and a glue gun always comes in handy.

building components for robotics kit- kitchenpantryscientist.com

Use your imagination for the art supplies.

art supplies for homemade robotics kit- kitchenpantryscientist.com

And if you’ve got a kid who likes to sew, it’s fun to add supplies to make sewable circuits!

Sewable electronics: coin cell battery holders, sewable LEDs, snaps and conductive thread  

USA https://www.sparkfun.com/lilypad_sewable_electronics and https://www.adafruit.com

Canada https://www.amazon.ca

Europe https://www.amazon.co.uk

Here are instructions for building a simple bristle bot.

IMG 40921 - YouTube

Have fun!

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Kitchen Pantry Scientist's Homemade Bath Fizzies - YouTube

To make a holidays version of the fizzing bath tablets in the video, we scented them with pumpkin pie spice and added a little more oil to incorporate the extra ingredients.

1 cup baking soda

¼ cup cream of tartar

3 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted to liquid

food coloring

rounded tablespoon

1 tsp. pumpkin spices

-Whisk together baking soda, cream of tartar and pumpkin spices. Slowly drizzle in coconut oil, mixing immediately. Stir for several minutes until you get a nice even mixture that holds together when you press it between your fingers. Add a little more oil if it is too powdery.

-Add a few drops of food coloring and mix again until the color is incorporated.

-Press the bath bomb mixture into a tablespoon and tap in on a tray to remove the bath tablet. If they don’t hold together, try adding a little more oil and mixing again. Dry the bath fizzies on a plate or cooking sheet and package them in cellophane bags or pretty baking cups for friends and family. Use the fizz bombs within a few weeks for maximum fizziness!

You can make larger “bath bombs” using molds for round ice cubes (which we found at Target.) Double or triple the recipes, gently press some mixture into each side of the mold, and mound a little extra on each side. Press the mold together to compress the bath bomb mixture into a single ball. Tap one side gently with the back of a spoon and gently open the mold to release that side of the sphere. Hold it in your palm and repeat with the other side to release the entire bath bomb from the mold.

The science behind the fun: The chemical name for baking soda is  sodium bicarbonate , and cream of tartar is an acid called potassium bitartrate, or potassium hydrogen tartrate . When you mix them together in water, you create a chemical reaction that forms carbon dioxide gas bubbles! It’s interesting to note that at temperatures below 76 degrees F (25 C),  coconut oil is a solid, but that at temperatures above this, it melts into a clear liquid. How does this affect your bath fizzies? Will they work in cold water as well as they do in warm water? Try it!

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Spice up your holidays with delicious Faux Cranberries, using oil spherification. Because they are made using agar,which has a higher melting temperature than gelatin, faux cranberries can be suspended in melted yellow Jell-O without losing their shape. It doesn’t work to make them using real cranberry juice, because it is too acidic. 

Different recipes, same science! (Oil spherification from “STEAM Lab for Kids”-Quarry Books 2018)

To make Faux Cranberries, you’ll need:

1 package red Jell-O

 2 Tbsp. agar flakes

squeeze bottle or large syringe

Tall container filled with very cold vegetable or canola oil. 

*Adult supervision required for hot liquids.

1. Chill oil in freezer.

2. With adult supervision, make Jell-O, following the directions on the package, but don’t allow it to harden.

3. To 1 cup of red Jell-O, add 2 Tbs. agar.  Microwave and stir repeatedly until the agar or gelatin is completely dissolved.

2. Allow the Jello to cool slightly and add it to a squeeze bottle.

Drip juice through cold oil.

3. Drip the Jell-O/agar solution into a tall container of cold oil, a few drops at a time so it forms into marble-sized orbs and sinks. Allow the orbs to cool for 30 seconds or so and retrieve them with a slotted spoon or strainer. Rinse with water and repeat, re-chilling the oil as needed until you have as many orbs as you want.

4. Add faux cranberries to another batch of Jell-O before it hardens completely, or layer Jell-O and add the faux cranberries to a center layer.

The Science Behind the Fun:

Oil spherification is known to cooks as a “molecular gastronomy” technique, and takes advantage of the fact that water and oil don’t mix. Water-based droplets falling through chilled oil form into perfect spheres due to surface tension, and gelatin and agar added to the mix are colloids that solidify as they cool.

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Eggs and sugar have great chemistry. Mix them together to create these sweet, crunch Halloween treats. They’ll take a few hours to bake, so plan ahead for this fun, edible science project.

KitchenPantryScientist.com

Meringues are simply egg whites whipped into sugary foams.  As you whip air into the mix, glue-like egg white proteins stick to the bubbles, stabilizing them to form a thick foam. The sugar you add combines with water from the eggs to form a sweet syrup.

When you bake meringue at a low temperature for a long period of time, the sugar and protein are transformed from an elastic goo to a glassy state, creating a crunch mouthful of bubbles.

Hard meringues are made using ¼ cup sugar per egg white, with a pinch of cream of tartar. Don’t skip the cream of tartar (an acid.) It helps stabilize the egg whites in the meringue.

To make Halloween Meringues, you’ll need:

3 egg whites from extra large eggs

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

¾ cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp Vanilla

Food coloring (gel works best)

Toothpicks

Dusting sugar (optional)

Parchment paper

Stand mixer or hand mixer

2 baking sheets

Pastry bags or large plastic zipper bags with the corners cut off

Round piping tips for pastry bag, if you have them

Recipe:

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees F.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Beat three egg whites on medium until they start to foam.

4. Add 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar and continue to beat the egg whites, increasing the speed to high.
5. When the foam gets thicker enough to form soft peaks, add 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon or so at a time as you beat the eggs. Add vanilla.
6. Continue beating the mixture until stiff, glossy peaks with rounded tips form. Don’t over-beat the meringue.

7. Add a round tip to the pastry or plastic bag. Fill the bag with the meringue you made.

8.Use the bag and tip to pipe half of the meringue into blobs. You can color it with food coloring before piping it, if you wish.

9. Make some colorful streaks on the meringues by using a toothpick to smear food coloring on the inside of the pastry tip before putting it in the bag and piping the meringue. A small tip can be used to create eyes for the blobs, snakes and worms.

10. Bake the meringues for 1-2 hours, until they feel dry and let them cool.

KitchenPantryScientist.com

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Sound waves are formed when air molecules are compressed (pushed together), creating pressure waves.

It’s fun and easy to play with sound waves! Here are some ideas for you:

Poppyseed Swarm Sound Wave Experiment - YouTube

Have fun experimenting!

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Combine science and art to engineer and decorate a custom water bottle jacket as unique as you are. Test different every-day insulators to see what works best to to keep water cold all day long!

water bottle jacket- KitchenPantryScientist.com

You’ll need:

-a washable plastic water bottle

-flexible insulating material, like craft foam, bubble wrap or fabric batting

-decorating materials, like stickers, ribbons or foam stickies

-a thermometer (optional)

-4 disposable empty water bottles or cans that are the same size (optional)

What to do:

(Optional) Test insulators by insulating each of the empty cans or bottles with different material. Fill each of them with the same amount of hot tap water and check the temperature of each periodically to see which material does the best job of slowing cooling of the water. The one that keeps water hot the longest is the best insulator, since it slows the movement of heat from one area to another.

Use the best insulator to build an insulating case for your water bottle. Make it big enough so that your bottle will slide out for washing. We used thick craft foam and covered it with adhesive craft foam. Shipping folders made of bubble wrap work well too! Here’s how we built ours…

Add some ice water to the bottle and you’re good to go! Just remove the jacket when you wash the bottle.

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Hands-on science experiment books are a great way to ease kids back into creative learning!

I recently shared some of the fun, easy, inexpensive science project ideas from my two newest books, “STEAM Lab for Kids” and “Star Wars Maker Lab” with a group of teachers on Twin Cities Live. Check out the clip below to learn to make hoop gliders and grow gorgeous Epsom salt crystals!

You can find my books at your local library, or pick them up at your favorite online or bricks-and-mortar retailer!

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Take your summer food game up a notch using… science! Sorbet recipe below. Vinaigrette recipe is in the post below this one.

&

Simple Freezer Strawberry Sorbet (adapted from Epicurious.com) 

30 minutes hands-on prep time, 8 hours start to finish

*Parental supervision required for boiling sugar syrup

You’ll need:

a shallow dish

1 quart strawberries 

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup orange juice

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

What to do:

  1. Make a sugar syrup by bringing 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water to a boil in a heavy sauce pan. Boil for 5 minutes.
  2. Puree strawberries in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  3. Add strawberries, lemon juice and orange juice to the sugar syrup.
  4. Pour mixture into a shallow dish and cool for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
  5. Put the chilled sorbet mix in the freezer for 6 hours, stirring every hour.
  6. Enjoy your sorbet!

The Science Behind the Fun:

In sorbet, sugar acts as an antifreeze agent, physically getting in the way of ice crystal formation to keep crystals small, so that you don’t end up with one big chunk of ice. Pre-chilling the mixture before freezing it allows it to freeze faster, which also encourages smaller crystals to form.

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“When I wasn’t at school, I was experimenting at home, and became a bit of a Mad Scientist. I did hours of research on mayonnaise, for instance, and although no one seemed to care about it, I thought it was utterly fascinating. When the weather turned cold, the mayo suddenly became a terrible struggle, because the emulsion kept separating, and it wouldn’t behave when there was a change in the olive oil or the room temperature. I finally got the upper hand by going back to the beginning of the process, studying each step scientifically, and writing it all down. By the end of my research, I believe, I had written more on the subject of mayonnaise than anyone in history. I made so much mayonnaise that Paul and I could hardly bear to eat it anymore, and I took to dumping my test batches down the toilet. What a shame. But in this way I had finally discovered a foolproof recipe, which was a glory.” Julia Child, from My Life in France


Julia’s secret for fool-proof mayo? Beat the mixture over a bowl of hot water to get the oil and eggs to form an emulsion, which is a mixture of two thing which are normally immiscible, like water and oil. In an emulsion, a bunch of one type of molecule will actually surround individuals or small groups of  the other type of molecule (think ring-around the rosy with one or two people in the middle who would rather not be there.)

When you’re trying to make an emulsion, it also helps to add a mediator called a surfactant to get between and interact with the immiscible molecules to stabilize the mixture. In a vinaigrette prepared using oil, mustard and vinegar, the proteins in the mustard act as surfactants.

To make delicious vinaigrette:

  1. Using a fork or wire whisk, mix together: 1 Tbsp. vinegar and 1 Tbsp. mustard.
  2. Add 3 Tbsp. oil (olive, vegetable or your favorite), drop-by-drop, whisking until you see an emulsion form! You can tell when an emulsion begins to form, because the mixture will start to look lighter-colored and thicker as the molecules are rearranged and reflect light differently!

Try some variations on these kitchen experiments. Does it work better to use a cold egg, room temperature egg, or warm egg?  What happens if you try to make mayo by setting your mixing bowl in a bowl of ICE water? Do you get an emulsion?

Can you see the difference between batches of vinaigrette? One was whipped over a bowl of ice water and the other over warm water.

When whipping up mayonnaise, adding a little water to the eggs before adding the oil helps make some of the proteins in the eggs more available to act as surfactants.  Of course, adding a little mustard helps too and tastes great!

Here’s the New York Times recipe we used to make mayonnaise:

  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • 3/4 cup neutral oil such as safflower or canola
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, salt and 1 teaspoon cold water until frothy. Whisking constantly, slowly dribble in the oil until mayonnaise is thick and oil is incorporated. When the mayonnaise emulsifies and starts to thicken, you can add the oil in a thin stream, instead of drop by drop.

*Remember that a bacteria called Salmonella enteriditis can lurk in raw eggs and make you sick, so it’s better to use pasteurized eggs for recipes like mayonnaise, where you don’t cook the eggs.

As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appetit!”

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Looking for fun, creative summer projects? I showed off some projects from STEAM Lab for Kids this morning on WCCO MidMorning!

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