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10 Cool Scientific Experiments You Can Do Right Now
By Adrian Chirila,
Toptenz, 5 June 2016.

Experiments enable scientists to solve the mysteries of the world and everything around it. They are the very way through which knowledge is created and problems are solved. Granted, experiments are based a great deal on trial and error, but whatever the outcome, we can rest assured that we’ve found out a bit more about the universe. Of course, while the brightest minds are regularly working toward solving life’s riddles, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t dabble in their “alchemy.” With the experiments listed below, this is one of the few times we’re actually going to say: kids, do try this at home.

10. Make Water Freeze Instantaneously

Who among us doesn’t want to control the natural forces of the world? Well, one simple way to do that is by freezing water instantaneously, as if by magic. To do this we need to know why water freezes in the first place. Besides the cold temperature, water first begins to freeze around impurities within it. Impurities like specks of dust, traces of salt, or calcium, which all act as incipient places from where ice starts to form. Think of trying to light a sheet of paper on fire. It will begin burning faster at the edges, as opposed to you trying to light it from the middle, since the edge is much coarser than its surface. This is why, for this experiment, you will need purified water. You could make it yourself, but it would be much easier to buy it directly.

Another key element to remember is the time you keep your purified water in the freezer. While purified water takes a bit longer to become ice, and can go below the freezing point without becoming solid, it will inevitably do so. The required time, it seems, should be two hours and 45 minutes. But when you take it out, you should remember to handle it with care because even the slightest jolt can transform it into ice in a second.

9. Colored Shadows

This experiment, as you might have guessed, is about colors and how our eyes play tricks on us when certain conditions take place. The reason for why we can “create” shadows of different colors is first and foremost due to the fact that color is not actually a property of an object. In order to see color, you need a source of light, a surface for that light to hit, and an observer to see it. Without one of these, we would not have color. The objects and their afferent colors we see today are due to the white light our sun emits. For example, if we were to take a yellow object, like a banana, and place it under a red light, that banana would become red, or green under a green light, and even black under a blue light. So, if our sun was emitting red light instead of white, we would all think that bananas are red. The reason why that banana is black under blue light, however, is because blue is yellow’s complementary color. Red has cyan, and green has magenta. The other colors in the spectrum are just a combination of the ones mentioned above.

This finally brings us to our optical illusion experiment. Shadows, without exception, are gray. But if a light of a different color shines on that shadow, it will “become” that color’s complementary. So, if we were to take an object and have two sources of light shining on it from two different angles, one of normal light and the other of red light, the shadow cast by the white light will become cyan – red’s complementary. If we exchange the red light with green, then the shadow will be magenta. We see them as such because of the surrounding colored light, which falls in and around it. If we were to isolate it and look just at the shadow itself, without seeing its surroundings, we would see that the shadow is and always will be gray.

8. Make Your Own Rocket Engine

Most of us have imagined ourselves flying among the stars and visiting other planets. But in order to do so, you would first need to leave Earth, and to do that you would need a rocket to get you into orbit. And a rocket is no good without a rocket engine. So, in order to make your dreams become a reality, we will show you how to make one of your own. The first thing you’ll need is fuel, of course. There are three types of rocket engines in the world today: one which uses solid fuels, another with liquid propellant, and the third, which uses a combination of both, called a hybrid engine. This last one uses a solid fuel source and a liquid gaseous oxidizer, which you’ll be able to make by using some really common household items.

For a solid fuel source, you’ll need a cylindrical-shaped, uncooked pasta piece, like the penne type, or rigatoni, or any other similar one you have in your kitchen cabinet. If you ever had any pyrotechnical tendencies when you were a kid, you may have, at one time, lit a piece pasta on fire and watched it burn. It does so because pasta has lots of calories, and one calorie is equal to one gram of dynamite in terms of energy. The big difference here is the speed at which that energy is released. For the liquid part of the “engine” you’ll need hydrogen peroxide and bread yeast. By combining these, you’ll create a steady supply of oxygen. Put these two together and you’re ready to go “exploring the unknown.” Just be careful not to burn down your mother’s curtains.

7. Magic Mud

Be prepared to make a bit of a mess with this one. But what could be more fun than playing with a glowing Play-Doh that melts in your hands the moment you stop moving it around? The first thing you’ll need is starch. You can either get it from potatoes by chopping them up and mixing them with water, or you can simply buy it from the store. Corn starch works equally well.

Mix a few tablespoons with some tonic water, to give it the glow (which you can see under dark light) and you’re ready to go. Make some just before your friends come over, turn off the lights and bring on the dark bulb so you can show them your own “magic mud.” You can even throw it in your mouth and eat it, since it’s edible, to truly show them who’s the most fearless in the room.

6. Ferrofluid

While the “magic mud” above would make a mess if you stop moving it around, it can be easily cleaned up with some water and a few napkins. The ferrofluid here is going to be a whole new level of dirty, but sacrifices must be made in order to properly harness the powers of magnetism. What you need is some laserjet toner, vegetable oil, and a rare-earth magnet. Even if it’s called “rare,” this type of magnet can be easily found at your local hardware store.

The ferrofluid is a liquid that contains Nano-scale particles of metal, which are found in the toner. When combined with vegetable oil, it keeps it from drying out. Some 50 milliliters of toner, mixed in with about two tablespoons of vegetable oil will do the job. Use a transparent container to see the wonders of magnetism at play. Use the magnet around the container to see how that “dark water” starts to take on a life of its own and form spikes. You can touch it, move it around; the possibilities are endless. Just be ready to clean toner from your hands when you’re finished.

5. Bring Back the Lava lamp

Lava lamps were the thing back in the ’60s, ’70s, and then again in the ’90s, and it’s about time someone brought them back. If you ever found yourself gazing into one of these, you’ll be happy to hear that you can simply make one of your own with simple and easy to find supplies. An original lava lamp is made out of colored bubbles of wax suspended in a clear or colorless liquid, which changes density when warmed by a heating element at the base, allowing them to rise and fall hypnotically.

For this experiment you’ll need an empty plastic bottle, vegetable oil, food coloring, effervescent tablets, or salt, if you can’t find any such tablets. Follow the instructions in the video above and you can bring a funkadelic flare back into your house.

4. Burning a Candle Underwater

This is a fun experiment that could also be profitable, if you decide to bet your friends that you can make fire burn underwater. As you might have guessed by now, this is a trick, but nevertheless, your best friend’s crisp US$20 is about to be yours. To do it, you’ll need a bowl, a thick candle about as long as the bowl is deep, and some water. Stick the candle at the bottom of the bowl by melting some wax beforehand, and then fill it with water to the very tip of the candle, but without getting the wick wet.

Then simply light the candle and watch as the flame goes down below “sea level.” As the candle slowly melts, the wax at the very edge is still kept cool by the water surrounding it. This wax still keeps the shape of the candle and stops the water from flooding in. Be sure to take your winnings fast, though, as this will not last for long and the water will inevitably find a weak spot and punch trough, extinguishing your flame.

3. A Flaming Candle Seesaw

While we’re on the subject of candles, here’s another experiment you can do. If you (hopefully) find yourself preparing a romantic evening, but you don’t want to be too ordinary and cliché yet still want to spend your time by candle light, you can make a candle seesaw.

You’ll need a fairly long candle, which you’ll cut at the bottom so the wick will be showing. Then, find the center of balance of the candle and poke a hot needle through it. Balance the candle between two glasses by supporting it on that needle, and light it at both ends. As one flame goes at the bottom, it melts the wax around it, making that part of the candle lighter and, in turn, raising it. Bring a bit of genius to your romantic dinner and put those losers she’s been out with before you to shame. After all, a little bit of magic and illusion helped David Copperfield land a supermodel back in the day.

2. Make a Matchbox Microphone

This particular experiment will show you just how simple some devices really are. By using an empty match box, lead from a pencil, a battery, a pair of crocodile clips, and a set of cheap headphones, you’ll have everything you need to make a microphone. It’s so easy to make one, mainly because microphones at their most basic are nothing more than transducers - devices which convert energy from one form to another.

Microphones convert acoustical energy (sound waves) into electrical energy (the audio signal). This electrical energy travels through the cable, where it reaches a loudspeaker, which itself is another transducer, but in reverse to a microphone. Follow the extremely easy instructions in this video, and you can begin to consider yourself an amateur electrical engineer of sorts.

1. “The Veil of Ignorance” Experiment

This last one is a social experiment, and quite an interesting one at that. John Rawls, a 20th century philosopher, came up with this one as a fail-proof model for identifying what truly is unfair in society today, and how we can gather support for fixing things. He believed that the “working hard, making it big” idea had negligible positive effects and, in fact, was a clever political deception, designed to prevent the powerful from having to undertake the necessary task of reforming society as a whole. He also understood that debates about unfairness can easily come to a halt due to arcane details and petty squabbling, which will ultimately yield very little. His ideas were held in such high regard that President Bill Clinton called him, “The greatest political philosopher of the Twentieth Century,” and had him for dinner at the White House on a regular basis.

The way this thought experiment works is downright ingenious in its mere simplicity, and can be played by anyone, and in whatever numbers. Calling it “The Veil of Ignorance,” Rawls asks us to imagine ourselves before our birth, as if floating just above the planet’s surface, in an intelligent state but without any knowledge of where and in what circumstances we will be born. So this way, we will have no idea what the society we will live in will be like, how the school system will perform, how the health care and social security will be, and so on - as if shrouded by a “veil of ignorance.”

He then tells us to ask ourselves one question: “If we knew nothing about where we’d end up, what sort of society would it feel safe to enter?” This question immediately stops us from thinking about those who “made it big,” and instead makes us realize that the rules of this game are unfair. Having equal chance of ending up as the child of a wealthy doctor in San Francisco, or the brother of seven, somewhere in the rougher parts of Detroit, is not a safe lottery to play. In short, anyone knows deep down what needs to be done, and what society we would like to be “born into.” This experiment allows us to properly focus on what details need the most attention, and can be played anywhere, with anyone who is willing.

Top image: The Lava lamp, via Toby & Roo.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image and some links added.]