I’ve been using this Einstein quote a lot lately:
I love this sentiment! Scientists with lab coats go through the methodical process of hypothesis, experiment, observation, results analysis, conclusion, new hypothesis and design or replication. Young children go through the same process as they play and explore, but in rapid succession!
What’s this? What does that do? What if I do this? Can I make this happen? Why did that happen? Can I do it again?
Certainly professional researchers have to learn to play with ideas in order to turn things on their head and make new discoveries, but the smallest scientists among us are professional players and are truly researching all the time.
When I posted the above quote to my Facebook Wall – (You’re following, right? OK, I’ll wait while you take care of that. Ready now?) – I mentioned that I had just seen this principle in action. My first grader had been working on his science fair project, and I couldn’t help but think of this quote over and over. With the relaxed requirements for his grade level, we could essentially just do any science activity and present it. I didn’t weigh down his curiosity by imposing my grad school questions about isolating variables or clarifying his hypothesis. We just played, and wondered, and talked.
Here’s what we did, in case you want to do some high-level research with your little scientists.
He wanted to do smoky bubbles or “Boo Bubbles” from Steve Spangler’s book, Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste: More Unforgettable Experiments that Make Science Fun (*affiliate). You can also find the activity on Steve Spangler’s website here or in his YouTube demonstration here:
(We’re Steve Spangler fans around here! Remember when I saw him in person? Made me like him even more!)
Now, had I thought to find the activity on his website, I would have seen Steve’s new suggestion for creating the dry ice bubble contraption that’s shown in the book. Maybe that was just as well, because our first challenge to tackle was how to recreate it.
We needed a container for the dry ice and water with a tube at the top to allow the fog to escape out with a higher pressure to create the bubbles. We came up with this:
A bulk sized plastic container with a hole cut (rather unprecisely) near the top, plastic tubing inserted (you can buy it at Home Depot in the plumbing section, I believe, but we had it laying around because, well, I’m a nerd for sensory play) and the unprecisely cut hole sealed with sticky tac (again, because that’s what we had laying around, but modeling clay would be awesome). I’ll let you get all the details from Steve’s site linked above, but here was our set up:
Two very important safety notes about dry ice, which you’ll see were some of my son’s favorite points for his “What I Learned” write up. First, dry ice will burn your skin if you touch it. Use tongs (which make an awesome “screaming” sound, as my son says) or leather gloves. (The knit gloves in the picture are NOT for handling dry ice, but for bouncing the bubbles.) Second, the sublimation (foggy release) of the dry ice creates pressure. That’s what makes the bubbles work, but it’s also what will cause your container to explode if it’s ever completely sealed off. (In trying to emphasize this to my son, I mentioned that people can actually make dry ice bombs. This became one of his favorite facts from the activity. Go figure!)
With it all set up, we were ready to do some serious play research!
The boys loved the bubbles and experimenting with what surfaces would keep the bubbles from popping. Though the fun, misty explosion that followed when the bubbles burst made up for any disappointment at their popping!
Afterward, I asked my scientist to help me make a list of what he explored and what he learned. Here’s what he came up with:
What I explored:
Different amounts of ice and what it does to the amount of fog and pressure.
Different openings for making different bubbles and different pressure.
Different surfaces to make bubbles on without popping.
Different ways to make the bubbles.
What I learned:
That you must have a bit of an opening when you use dry ice or it will explode.
You can make bombs with dry ice.
Dry ice sublimates, that means it melts straight from a solid to a gas.
Hot water makes dry ice sublimate faster.
More ice makes more fog.
Dry ice bubbles bounce off of softish fabrics like felt and stretchable knitted gloves.
When dry ice bubbles pop fog bursts out.
Smaller openings made the bubbles come out faster because there was more pressure.
Dry ice sublimates slowly all the time, that’s why you can’t keep it in your freezer for a long time.
Dry ice can burn your fingers so you should use leather gloves or tongs to move it.
When you use metal tongs to pick up dry ice it makes a screaming sound.
Dry ice is made from frozen carbon dioxide.
Playing with dry ice bubbles is fun!
These scientists agree, play really IS the highest form of research!
What play research have you done lately?
Do you dig science? You’ll love this post I wrote for my friend Allison at No Time for Flash Cards .(While you’re there, check out the rest of her science week offerings!)
*Try my friend Maggie’s recipe at Red Ted Art for a really great bubble solution!
so where do you get a tiny bit of dry ice? these look so gorgeous. wonder what would happen if you took them outside when it was freezing
Jeri Dansby says
It would still sublimate… Carbon dioxide freezes @ -110°
Oooh! Great question! I don’t know what would happen, but I’d love to hear about it if you try it! We get our dry ice at the grocery store. Usually from the meat counter or the customer service desk, depending on the store. At the stores I’ve been to they sell it by the pound, so you can determine how much to get. Just remember that the dry ice is continually sublimating, so don’t get it too far in advance of your activity, and get a little bit more than you think you’ll need!
maggy, red ted art says
Oh my goodness, this is AMAZING!!!!!! I love this home experiment. Brilliant! So much fun. And thank you **SO** much for your kind recommendation of our bubble solution. **BEAM**.
Thank you, Maggie! I’m always happy to share your fantastic stuff!
Valerie Lui says
Thank you. Where can you obtain dry ice?
We love Steve Spangler as well! Actually, I think we got hooked on his “Experiment of the Week” emails thanks to you. We try do one a week (although in honesty, we’re lucky if we do two a month 🙂 As it turns out, my little 18 year old brother (okay, he’s bigger than I am) is a fan as well and had already done this with friends. Sooo, while visiting last summer he got the coolest uncle award while doing this for his nephews and friends. Then we stole his tubing and funnel (since I didn’t have either) and used it to have some serious fun with around Halloween. The first comment on freezing has me thinking we might pull the tubing out again! Just for a fun twist, my little sister put up some pillows to border the table in the kitchen and then they turned it into a mini air hockey game using the boo bubbles. So many fun extensions with this!
I love this! And funny story about dry ice bombs, I remember when I was a kid my dad brought dry ice home from work. All our friends were playing with it and then he put it in a plastic pop bottle with water and sealed it and put it on my mom’s bird bath in the backyard. The bottle expanded so far and we backed away. Then there was a loud pop and it blew the middle right of out the bird bath. We found peices of the plastic bottle all around in little pieces. So definetly dont seal it cant imagine the damage that would do when you are so close.
Wow!!! my kids love bubbles , this is gonna be fantastic to do with them!! I remember I got dry ice from an ice-cream shop once, I’ll ask!
Greetings from Argentina!
What about adding food coloring?
I haven’t tried that! Would be a fun experiment — I want to hear about it if you try!
Tonia L. Clark says
Hi Amanda, I just happened to stumble upon your blog through this post on Pinterest. I got to tell you, I look at a lot of blogs in my line of work…a LOT…of….blogs! I’m a web development major and I dabble in web design in addition to running my own online website from home.
I just wanted to say that I think your blog design is brilliant! The header is what I really fell in love with. Why? Because it says who you are, what you do, your photo, your newsletter, your email and your social media buttons are all there front and center top of the page.
Oh if only so many other blogs/websites were so clearly labeled and to the point!
Right on girl, I am officially your fan!
Moira Van Alstine says
Loved the website and connecting links! I am going to try the bubbles in my classroom..Part of water science with first grade..and next year at Halloween!
jacqueline Peete says
Where do I find Dry Ice?
You can usually find it in your local grocery store. Some sell it from the meat counter, others at checkout, and some at the customer service desk.
Our local ice cream shop carries it too.
Hello! I’m going to be doing mad scientist experiments with small children at my library, can they pop the bubbles? I know that sounds like a silly question, but I just want to make sure the fog is okay for them to touch.
Thanks so much! 🙂
Should be fine! The dangerous thing about touching dry ice is the extreme cold temperature. As a vapor, that isn’t an issue. The only thing I can think of is the soap mixture creating the actual bubble could go from fingers into eyes. (Wouldn’t be the first time!) What a great theme for a library activity!
Twisted Mommy says
This is awesome! I LOVE science and so does my little one, although at 3 its just fun and cool to her. But then again, thats what science is all about isnt it? Fun and cool stuff? Yeah! So I want to try this at our Halloween party. I think it will be a hit with the kids (and parents).
Wow! Love your homemade Boo Bubbles generator. Thanks for sharing and expanding on our experiment. We love to see it in action.
So you add the dish soap just as Steve did? …I’m trying this out for my science experiment for my school and I need to make sure
I did follow Steve’s directions, but I think you could also use any bubble solution. I’d recommend doing a practice run-through before taking it to school. Have fun!
Dixie B. says
Happy to get this!!!
i want to now how does this cool experiment benefits the world or what is the propose
tja nks but what is the science behind it
thanks but whats the science be hinde it