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The 411: Youth

Have fun while learning with outdoor science projects

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January 4, 2011 | 2,092 views | 1 comment

If you think science happens only in a laboratory, you’ve got to get out more. The great outdoors is filled with opportunities to learn about the laws of physics, chemistry, aerodynamics and more. And you don’t need expensive or fancy equipment to take advantage of them. Just check out the amazing experiments that follow. All it takes to pull them off is a few household supplies, some scientific curiosity and a little piece of the world outside your front door.

Bubble Mania

Time and again, science has shown us that first impressions can’t be trusted. Consider the bubble: At first glance, it looks like the most fragile thing in the world. Yet under the right circumstances, it can be surprisingly difficult, if not impossible, to burst - as the two tricks here illustrate.

You Will Need:

8-1/2x11” sheet card stock



Bowl and spoon

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons dishwashing liquid

2 tablespoons glycerin (sold at craft and drug stores)

Plastic drinking straw

1. Make a bubble blower by rolling the card stock into a cone and securing it with tape, as shown. Evenly trim the narrow end so it measures {-inch in diameter. Trim the wide opening to even it too.

2. In the bowl, gently stir together the water, dishwashing liquid, and glycerin, and you’re ready to perform the following tricks.

Trick 1: Unpoppable Bubble

What to Do

1. Dip the wide end of the cone into the bubble solution and hold it there for a few seconds to absorb the mixture. Tap off the excess liquid and then quickly dip the cone again. With the cone pointed toward the ground, gently blow a large bubble. Leave it attached to the end of the cone, using your finger to cover the cone’s tip.

2. Now stick the point of the scissors into the bubble. It should pop instantly. Try it again, but this time, first dip the scissor points into the bubble solution. They should pass right through the bubble’s “delicate” skin without breaking it.

What’s Happening

Trick 1: There are two main ways a bubble pops. The first is when its watery wall evaporates (adding some glycerin to the bubble solution slows down this process). The second is when something dry tears a hole in the wall, as when you poke it with the bare points of a pair of scissors. Dipping the blades into the bubble solution beforehand, however, gives them liquid edges, and the bubble wall simply flows around them.

Trick 2: Inside-Out Bubbles

What to Do

1. Blow a large bubble as you did in the first trick.

2. Dip the plastic drinking straw into the liquid (be sure to wet at least 2 inches of it). Insert the end of the straw into the bubble and gently blow to create one or more smaller bubbles inside it. Then watch. The interior bubbles will pass through the skin at the bottom of the large bubble and cling to the outside.

What’s Happening

Trick 2: As with the scissors, coating the straw with solution allows you to insert it in the big bubble and blow smaller bubbles inside. But why don’t those small bubbles stay in there? Because their proportion of air to liquid is smaller than the bigger bubble’s, they are denser. Consequently, they sink and fall through the bottom of the bigger bubble. Still, they don’t weigh quite enough to break free completely, so they simply hang in place.

Cardboard Boomerang

It’s hard to watch a boomerang soar off through the air and return to the thrower without imagining that some kind of magic is at work. In fact, it’s not magic at all - just physics taking flight.

You Will Need:

8-inch square of cardboard cut from a cereal box or poster board

Pencil and ruler


Ballpoint pen

Decorative stickers or colored markers

What to Do

1. Depending on whether you are left-handed or right-handed, mark the cardboard square as specified and then cut out the boomerang. It will resemble a chunky X at this stage. Use the scissors to round the ends for safety.

2. With the ballpoint pen, score along the fold lines (shown as dashes in our diagram) and then fold the cardboard down to create 45-degree flaps. If you like, decorate the boomerang with stickers or colored markers.

3. Try out your boomerang on a calm day, standing 20 feet away from people or obstacles (boomerangs are notorious for getting caught in trees or landing on roofs). Hold the boomerang nearly vertical (not horizontal, as you would a flying disk), with the pencil lines visible. Flick your wrist to add spin as you toss it forward and slightly up ward. It should start to turn and then flatten out as it coasts back to you. The easiest way to catch it is to clap it between both hands. Don’t be surprised if it takes you a few tries.

What’s Happening

There’s a lot of physics going on here, with your boomerang acting like a set of wings and a spinning gyroscope.

For starters, by bending back the edges of the boomerang arms, you turn them into curved wings, like those of an airplane. The curves cause air to move more quickly over the wings’ tops than the bottoms, creating lift. That’s what keeps the boomerang from falling to the ground.

The reason the boomerang comes back to you has to do with its spinning motion, similar to the way a gyroscope or top spins in a circle. If you’re interested in the details of how this works, we like the explanation at

Robert Garisto is an associate editor for Physical Review Letters. Leslie Garisto Pfaff is a FamilyFun contributor.

(c) 2008, FamilyFun.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Your Opinions and Comments

Charles Sitz  
Floresville, TX  
March 7, 2011 5:54pm
Congress has refused to allow Frank Buckles, who was the last living veteran of World War I, to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. capitol. Apparently they think that honor should only be bestowed on the privileged class. ... More ›

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