Making Chemistry Fun and Tasty
I’ve never understood why Science classrooms had to be so boring. I mean, how can you take volcanoes and caustic chemicals and Antimatter and turn them into a boring subject? How on Earth can you make explosions boring? Probably by never having explosions in the classroom. No, we always had nice things in our basic chemistry class, like salt and sugar mixed together to show us that a mixture is different from a compound of vinegar and baking powder. That is just too, very, dull.
Now, when I took the advanced Science course the year after that, I was placed into an honors chemistry class and we had fun experiments like burning bubbles and freezing stuff in liquid nitrogen. Have you ever made gas bubbles and set them on fire? It’s awesome. The world should all make that a required experiment.
But basic chemistry is still just so, well, plain. This problem could easily be remedied, though. You can just apply the principles of chemistry to baking. It is a science, you know? They are even remarkably similar sciences. And, if I were to share such a plan with you, it would appeal to Mothers and fill my roundup quota of the week. Not that I’m keeping track of these things, mind you, it’s just something I can’t help but forget. Marketing majors tend to be secretly evil like that: they do something, but they know exactly what demographic it will appeal to. Sorry for ruining your hope in humanity again, guys! :)
Experiment One: Density = Chocolate
If I were to be a Science teacher someday (in a private school where teachers are actually allowed to do something besides stroke egos and fill out paperwork, like, say, teaching) I would use chocoflan as the ultimate density experiment. Unlike those boring ‘drop stuff in water and see what floats!’ experiments I was forced to endure as a younger student, chocoflan is exactly the same, but yummier. You drop cake batter and flan into the bundt mold, and the densest mixture drops while the lightest mixture floats. (Lightest as in least dense, I know that a non-dense item can occasionally be heavier than a dense item, depending on different factors.) Here’s a yummy gluten free recipe for chocoflan, and you can simply using normal wheat flour in the recipe if you aren’t gluten sensitive or allergic.
Experiment Two: Mixtures, Compounds, and Mousse
Now, you may have been confused as a sprightly young student in the differences between a mixture and a compound. A mixture is when you have different things mixed together, but they could potentially be separated again. Not easily in most cases, but potentially. If you felt like sorting grains of sand from salt for hours or days. I know I wouldn’t, but these are the important questions multiple choice questions ask you, so you have to know the right answer to them. #EducationFail A compound, on the other hand, is not a physical mixture or change but a chemical one, and once those two or more things are mixed even weeks of sorting won’t leave you with your original two ingredients. Take mousse for example. When you mix cocoa powder and sugar, it is a mixture. When you add vanilla and whipping cream, it turns into a compound. And I think any kid will be able to remember compound vs. mixture when chocolate is involved. (Note: it is really hard to find a traditional mousse recipe in the blogosphere! Here is two ingredient mousse and kid friendly mousse, neither of which prove the science but both of which look yummy!)
Experiment Three: Acids, Bases, and Pineapple
An Explanation of pH
Now, I know what you are thinking. “How does pineapple upside down cake explain Ph?” Easy. First you let the kid/s try some pineapple, and then point to the acidic side of the pH scale. Then you give them a cup of water to wash the taste from their mouths, and point at the middle of the scale. Then you give them a bit of flour to taste on their tongue, and point to the basic end of the scale. Way more fun than playing with cabbages or Litmus papers, though further down the road they’ll still have to mess with that. Now that they’ve done the experiment, have them help you make gluten free pineapple upside down cake.
Experiment 4: Nuclear Decay Without the Danger
Gluten Free lemon Bars, sans photo. At this blogger’s post.
Now, I’ll admit. Nuclear decay was a pretty awesome class, especially considering there was a chunk of some actual nuclear substance in a protective container in the class room. And we got to use those funky Geiger counters to see where in the classroom there was radioactivity. It wasn’t always near the unnamed radioactive chunk of stuff when it was beeping, though. We all hoped that was only because it was an older sensor… If you want a really scientific and in depth experiment for this concept, this is not your post. This is. But if you want to explain the very basics to your kid (or your teen is really behind in science) this shows the theory without actually involving anything cancerific. Not that cancer is terrific, of course.
But anyways, bar cookies are a good way to show this phenomena. If you cut the pan of cookies into two sections, and put one of those sections back into the fridge, you’ve had first generation decay of a substance that decays at 1/2 each time. If you take the section left and cut it in two and add that to the fridge as well, you’ve got second generation decay. If we cut that piece in two, and you eat one of those pieces, that’s third generation decay. If the next piece is cut in half, and you give your kid half of it, you get fourth generation decay. They’ll cry, so you’ll eventually give them the rest of it, and then explain that it was for science and not for saving her from a cavity because it now represents fifth generation decay.
Experiment Five: Capillary Action, Diffusion, Osmosis
Equilibrium is a little harder to illustrate with edible stuff. I mean, the concept of molecules moving from one side of the room to another when you spray perfume or something, because the molecules want to be equally spread throughout the room so they can reach a state of equilibrium, is hard to illustrate with food. I mean the chocoflan recipe above involves food movement, but that’s from density. If you soak a turkey in sauce or gravy, that sponging action is pretty similar to a quest for equilibrium, though. It’s called diffusion. Water molecules move from an area of high concentration to low concentration without any added energy. If this movement happens through a semi-permeable membrane, like the turkey skin, it is then called Osmosis. I think I learned this most easily through the old tv show Osmosis Jones, where cells are personified characters fighting invasive viruses and bacteria in the body of a boy. If you want something a little more factual, you can look at these notes from the University of Illinois.
For capillary action, stick a clear straw in the beverage you are pairing with this meal. It’ll probably be water or lemonade, unless you are an American and always drink pop at dinner, or you live off continent and drink wine at dinner. That’ll all work too. See how the liquid moved up the straw, past the level the rest of the liquid hovers at. That’s capillary action, and in the real world it’s always at work in plants and your veins. For a more sciency experiment you can dye flowers here.
I know you are happy that I’ve shown you how yummy Science can be! Make sure that you visit these wonderful bloggers and let them know the results if you try their recipes, and be sure to let me know the results if you try the experiments! Have fun discovering your own cool experiments once you start moving into more advanced realms. :)