Science Spotlight

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Try this fun experiment about surface tension!

Materials: Plate, milk, food coloring, dish soap, cotton swab.

Directions: Pour some milk onto the surface of the plate. Add some drops of food coloring to the center. Take a cotton swab and put a dab of dish soap on the swab. Stick the swab in the middle of a drop of food coloring. What happens?

How It Works: Surface tension is caused by the force of each of the molecules in the milk pushing against each other. When the dish soap is added, it binds with the fat molecules and reduces the surface tension of the milk. The molecules away from the cotton swab have higher surface tension and pull the milk and the food coloring towards them. This is how you created beautiful art!

Want more? Research it! Does this experiment work with other liquids? Why? Email ECHO at to let us know what you find and have a chance at being featured in next week’s edition of the Burlington Free Press and our Facebook Page! We look forward to learning about your research.

Take a moment to imagine a warm summer Vermont day – they’re coming soon! You have the luxury of jumping into a pool to cool off. As you hit the surface it feels kind of hard but you splash in and sink right down. Sometimes if you jump just right, the splash is minimal, but other times you create a wave of water! This is all because of surface tension. Surface tension is caused by the molecules in the liquid being attracted to one another. In most of the liquid, molecules are being pulled up, down, and both sides. This neutralizes the forces. The surface of a liquid has molecules pulling in many directions, but because they are at the top there is no force pushing them down. This causes the molecules to pull in on themselves, creating internal pressure and forcing the surface of the liquid to contract. When you jump into a pool, you are breaking up the tension of the molecules. That is why you feel an initial impact. Try this experiment below to see surface tension in action!

Try this fun experiment about static electricity!

Materials: Plastic comb, pencil, plastic bottle (or something the pencil can balance on)

Directions: Take the comb and run it through your hair for about 2 minutes. Set the pencil on top of the bottle so it balances. Move the comb near the pencil, but don’t touch it. What happens?

How it works: When you rub the comb in your hair, some of the negatively charged electrons are transferring from your hair to the comb. This means that the comb is now overall negatively charged. As you bring the comb near the pencil, you will notice that the pencil will follow the comb even though you are not touching it. It’s not magic, it’s science! The pencil has a positive charge. Opposite charges attract. In this case, that means the pencil will follow the comb as you move it around.

Want more? Research it!: How does static electricity play a role in your printer? Email ECHO at to let us know what you find and have a chance at being featured in next week’s edition of the Burlington Free Press and our Facebook Page! We look forward to learning about your research.

In nature we can see some incredible things, including watching lightning strike across the sky! Lightning starts in clouds. Within these clouds there are positive and negative charges that usually live harmoniously together. During a storm, the rough winds and the ice colliding cause these charges to separate and create a static electrical charge! Static electricity is when any material gains or loses electrons and becomes positively charged (when it loses electrons) or negatively charged (when it gains electrons). It’s static because unlike the electricity that turns our lamps on or makes our microwaves work, it doesn’t flow in a circuit. As the two charges grow larger, they can collide within the cloud and the sky lights up. The bright flash of lightning is the energy released during that collision. This is what we see the most often. Sometimes, though, we can see lightning bolts strike down from the sky.
The negative charges within the cloud start to move towards the ground, called a Stepped Leader. From the ground, positive charges begin moving upward – mostly from tall objects or buildings – this is called an Upward Leader. When the negative charges of the Stepped Leader meet the positive charges from the Upward Leader, this is where we see the electrical current and resulting energy release known as a lightning bolt! Want to give static electricity a try for yourself?

Try this fun experiment about density!

Materials: Vegetable Oil, Water, Salt, food coloring, clear glass

Directions: Fill the glass ⅔ with water. Pour in vegetable oil to fill the rest of the glass. Add a few drops of food coloring and observe what happens. Finally, add salt and watch what happens with the oil and the food coloring! You can continue adding more salt and food coloring as you wish.

How it works: In the beginning of the experiment, the oil settles above the water because it is less dense. When you add salt to the cup, the salt sinks to the bottom of the cup since it is heavier than the other two liquids. The salt carries a blob of oil with it, some of which contains the food coloring. As the salt begins to dissolve in the water, it releases the oil, which floats back up to the top.

Want more? Research it!: Can you figure out how ice floats in water? Email ECHO at to let us know what you find and have a chance at being featured in next week’s edition of the Burlington Free Press and our Facebook Page! We look forward to learning about your research.

When walking around the boardwalk in downtown Burlington, you will see so many amazing boats out on the water. How can something as large as a boat float in water when small rocks sink? Boats, and submarines, have a special hidden compartment called a ballast tank to help them accomplish this amazing feat. Ballast tanks are filled with air. When the tank is full of air, the boat is less dense than the water and it will float! Density is the amount of mass in a given volume, or amount of space. Mass is dependent on the number of molecules in an object. 
If we change the amount of mass in the ballast tank, the boat will instead sink. Submarines use this trick to travel below the water’s surface. Water enters the ballast tank, which is more massive and contains more molecules than air, causing the submarine to sink. When the submarine wants to rise back to the surface it will push the water out of the ballast tanks and fill them with air. Though the mass inside the tanks have changed, their volume has not, and the submarine can float back up to the surface! Explore density more with this easy science experiment that you can do right from home.

Try this fun experiment about chromatography!

Materials: 1 glass, pencil, paper towel or coffee filter, black Crayola marker (or any color on hand — not permanent), tape.

Directions: Cut a strip out of the coffee filter or paper towel. Draw a line across the bottom with a black marker. Hang the coffee filter vertically in a glass by taping it to the pencil and hanging it over the glass. Add just enough water to be just below the black line. Wait and watch the colors separate!

How it works: This activity is done using paper chromatography. As the liquid moves, it carries the different colored molecules. Molecules of different sizes are deposited in different locations on the coffee filter.  Smaller molecules travel farther across the coffee filter than larger molecules. Which colors spread out the farthest?

Want more? Research it!: How might law enforcement use chromatography at crime scenes to help crack the case? Email ECHO at to let us know what you find and have a chance at being featured in next week’s edition of the Burlington Free Press and our Facebook Page! We look forward to learning about your research.

Vermont is known for beautiful fall colors. Every Autumn, the green leaves change into a wonderful collage of oranges, yellows, and reds. It may seem like the colors just appear out of nowhere, but they are actually present in the leaves the entire time! During the spring and summer months, leaves work really hard to provide energy for the tree through photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for giving leaves their green color, is responsible for this process.
In the fall, as the days get shorter, trees don’t need their leaves to make energy so the green pigment is no longer necessary and the other hidden pigments get a chance to shine. Scientists used chromatography to figure out that the colors were there all along.
Chromatography is the process of separating different components from a mixture. The different parts are separated when the mixture is passed through a medium, trapping the different parts in different places as they move through the mixture. Why do the different parts get trapped in different places? Molecules! Everything in the world is made up of tiny things we cannot see called molecules. These molecules come in many different sizes. In chromatography, we can determine how big different molecules are by witnessing how far they travel. Are there colors that are hiding in objects in your home? Become a scientist and perform chromatography at home!

Try this fun experiment about air pressure!

Materials: 1 cup, water, a piece of cardboard or thick paper (wide enough to cover the mouth of the cup) 1 bucket or sink.

Directions: Fill the cup all the way to the very top with water. Place the cardboard over the top of the cup and hold with your hands. Invert the glass, holding onto the cardboard. Remove your hand and notice how the cardboard sticks to the glass and water does not fall out!

How it works: The air pushing up from underneath the cardboard is strong enough to stop the weight of the water from pushing the cardboard down. Because of this air pressure, the cardboard will stay on the glass and the water will not spill out – at least not right away!

Want more? Research It! How do spacesuits help astronauts overcome air pressure challenges while in space? Email ECHO at to let us know what you find and have a chance at being featured in next week’s edition of the Burlington Free Press and our Facebook Page! We look forward to learning about your research.

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, the air around us is constantly pushing us in every direction. I am sure you have noticed that you never expand like a balloon or shrink down really small, right?
That is because of air pressure!
Air pressure is the weight of air molecules pushing on the Earth. Every single thing on Earth is being exposed to 14.7 pounds per square inch of air pressure all the time. The amount of air pressure changes depending on where you are on Earth. At sea level, you will experience the most air pressure.
But don’t worry! It is dispersed evenly over your body you won’t even notice it. What happens to your ears when you are traveling up a mountain? Or when you fly in a plane? They pop! Your eardrums pop because they are trying to equalize the differences in pressure from the location you started at to the height of the location where your ears pop. There is less air and as a result, less air pressure the higher up you go. If your body didn’t do this then your eardrums would burst instead. You can experience air pressure in so many ways yourself or through experiments like the one here.

Try this fun diffusion experiment at home!

Materials: You will need two glasses of water, one hot and one cold, and food coloring (one color works, but two is more fun).

Directions: Take the food coloring and place a few drops into each glass of water. What do you notice?

How it works: The temperature of a substance is related to how fast the molecules are moving. Therefore, in the hot water the molecules were moving faster than they were in the cold water. This causes the dye in the hot water to diffuse, or move throughout the water, more quickly!

Want more? Research It! Diffusion happens in things as small as a single cell. Do some research and find out how! Email ECHO at to let us know what you find and have a chance at being featured in next week’s edition of the Burlington Free Press and our Facebook Page! We look forward to learning about your research.

Did you know that science is happening all around you, even when you are cooking? Have you ever wondered how pasta noodles go from hard and crunchy to soft and ready to eat? You might think that the noodles are absorbing the water, and you’re right! This is a cool science phenomenon — Diffusion! 
Diffusion is an important process happening everywhere: in the cells of our bodies, roots of plants, and even in your dinner prep. So what is diffusion? Molecules, the small particles that make up everything in our world, like to be spread out evenly. Diffusion is the process where molecules move from high concentration, where there are a lot of them, to low concentration, where there are fewer. In the example of our noodles, the uncooked noodles have a low concentration of water molecules. When cooking, the water will diffuse into the noodles, making them softer.Once the noodles are cooked, the molecules will be spread out evenly. If you don’t want to cook up any spaghetti right at this moment, try this easy science experiment instead.
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