Preparing Boys for Life

Mr. Leech's five at home science experiments

Upper School science teacher Will Leech shared various science experiments that can be done at home with products you may have on hand. Remember to use safety precautions where necessary, such as using googles and having an adult present.

The five experiments Mr. Leech lists range in difficulty, equipment needs, and how messy the activity is. Find an experiment that works for you and share your work using #VirtualHaverford on social channels.

Density tower

  • Equipment level: 4/5 
  • Skill level: 4/5 
  • Messiness level: 4/5

Summary

This density experiment looks at whether certain items will float in different layers of liquids in a tall glass or vase. Layer in liquids you can find around your house, such as honey, milk, vegetable oil, and dish soap, then see if things like a ping pong ball, a cherry tomato, or a lego will float in any of the liquids. A helpful hint: when adding each liquid to the tower, add them slowly and carefully! 

Equipment needed:

  • Tall straight sided glass or vase
  • Water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Vegetable oil or olive oil
  • Milk
  • Dish soap 
  • Honey
  • Ping pong ball
  • Cherry tomato
  • Lego
  • Bolt (or something small and heavy)
  • Turkey baster (optional)
  • Paper towels for spillages!

Instructions:

  1. Add honey to the bottom of your glass/vase until you have a layer about ¾ inch high.
  2. Using the turkey baster (or a spoon) add in the milk as slowly and as carefully as possible (you don’t want them to mix).
  3. Repeat for the dish soap.
  4. Mix some water with the food coloring and add it as your next level
  5. Add the vegetable oil as your top layer
  6. Now gently drop your objects into your tower. Note which liquid layer the object ends up.

The science:

The different chemical make-ups of each liquid allow objects to float or sink. Learn more about what each liquid is made up of below: 

  • Honey is made of water, sugar, and other substances. This makes it very viscous and dense.
  • Milk is water with proteins and tiny globules of oil/fat.
  • Dish soap is water with large detergent molecules in them.
  • Water molecules are very small, but are held together with strong intermolecular forces called hydrogen bonds. (The food coloring is just to make it pretty!)
  • Oil is the least dense and is hydrophobic, meaning it separates from water easily.

Learn more about density here

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Balloon race cars

  • Equipment level: 3/5
  • Skill level: 3/5
  • Messiness level: 2/5

Summary

These cars take just minutes to make, but will provide hours of fun! Using household items, you can make cars that showcase scientific principles such as thrust, friction, and more. Choosing different designs for the cars will make the cars go faster or slower. Which design makes the car go the fastest?

Equipment needed:

  • Balloon
  • Straw
  • Bottle caps (or other suitable wheels)
  • Cardboard
  • Tape
  • Skewers (straws also work)
  • Scissors

Instructions:

  1. Cut out your cardboard to make your car body
  2. Add the skewers as your axles
  3. Make small holes in each bottle cap, being careful not to cut yourself. Add the wheels to the axles.
  4. Check to make sure the wheels spin easily.
  5. Tape your balloon to your straw tightly. You can cut your straw shorter if you want.
  6. Tape the balloon to your car with the straw facing backwards and check that everything looks good.
  7. Decorate your car (optional)
  8. Blow up your balloon and let it loose on a hard, level floor.

The science:

  • The air escaping the balloon is called thrust. The larger the force of the thrust the faster the car.
  • Friction is what slows the car down. Scientists and engineers spend a significant amount of time trying to eliminate friction in designs for vehicles. 
  • There is so much you can change that will impact your speed. How does making the wheels bigger or smaller, adding more balloons, or cutting down on the weight of the car impact the speed of the car?

Looking for more car-building experiments? Check out this video on creating mouse trap cars. 

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Fizzy rockets

  • Equipment level: 3/5
  • Skill level: 2/5
  • Messiness level: 5/5

Summary:

This experiment is definitely one for outside, as you’ll be launching a homemade rocket! Using some items in your medicine cabinet, you’ll be able to say “blast off” - make sure you stand at a safe distance while completing this experiment, wear safety goggles, and have an adult present.

Equipment:

  • Fizzy tablets (i.e. dental tablets or vitamins) and the tube they come in
  • Card stock/heavy paper
  • Tape
  • Water

Instructions:

  1. Empty out all the tablets from the tube and put them to the side somewhere safe.
  2. Using the card stock paper, add a nose cone to the bottom of the tube. This will be the top of your rocket.
  3. Add some fins using the card stock paper to the bottom of the tube (where the tube opens). Your rocket should be able to stand up on it’s own with the cap on the tube.
  4. Take your rocket outside.
  5. Fill your rocket ⅓ full with water.
  6. Quickly add a tablet, put the cap on and set your rocket down. Retreat to a safe distance.
  7. Wait until blastoff!
  8. Experiment with different amounts (and temperatures) of water.

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Homemade speakers

  • Equipment level: 1/5
  • Skill level: 2/5
  • Messiness level: 1/5

Summary:

You can create your own speakers using household goods. This device doesn’t amplify the music, but does make it sound louder because the sound energy is being directed at you more strongly. 

Equipment Needed: 

  • Phone (for the music)
  • Long cardboard tube (such as from a roll of paper towels)
  • Two disposable plastic cups
  • Scissors
  • Decorations (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Carefully cut a slit about the width of your phone in the cardboard tube
  2. Cut holes in the plastic cups to fit on the end of the cardboard tube
  3. Decorate
  4. Turn your music on and enjoy

The science: 

  • The sound waves are being directed at you, making this device seem like the music is being amplified, but it is merely being focused in your direction.
  • Consider experimenting with the size of the cups. What happens if you use bigger or smaller cups? 

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Soap-powered boats 

  • Equipment level: 3/5
  • Skill level: 3/5
  • Messiness level: 3/5

Summary:

Use liquid dish soap to power a homemade boat forward! By cutting into the paper boat and adding liquid soap to the back of it, soap will push the boat forward. Try this in a bathtub or other large basin. 

Equipment:

  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Toothpick
  • Tape or glue
  • Liquid soap (try a few different types)
  • Large bowl, basin, or a bathtub

Instructions:

  1. Cut out a boat shape in your paper.
  2. Add a V shaped cut at the back of the boat about ½ inch deep and ½ inch wide
  3. Tape or glue a toothpick to your boat. Cut out a small triangle and add it to your toothpick to make a sail for your boat.
  4. Very gently float your boat in the water and add a drop of soap to the V shape at the back.
  5. Watch your boat slowly power itself forward.
  6. Try out different designs!

The science:

  • The detergent in the soap reduces the surface tension at the rear and causes it to power forward. You can try different soaps to see which one works best.

Get some tips and tricks by watching this simple video