Summer Science and Chemical Reactions!

I got new lab equipment! To celebrate, my daughter and I decided to have a chemistry week for our “Super Awesome Summer Camp of Science”. My daughter and niece would make slime, lava lamps, casein plastic, and diet coke geysers! We would celebrate the fun of chemistry while cooking up some chemical reactions! Before we could get concocting, however, we needed to go over some basics. We started with the atom.

We often say that cells are the building blocks of life. Well, atoms are the building blocks of cells. In fact, atoms are the building blocks of everything! Think of Legos (or any type of building block). You know how you can piece lots of individual Legos together to make something bigger? Atoms are the same way! Different atoms connect together to make things called molecules. These molecules can be simple or complex, and they connect together to make even bigger things! Atoms and molecules combine to make grains of sand, metal, bacteria, trees, pets, and even you and me! Atoms and molecules make up everything in the universe. Indeed, atoms themselves are forged in the process of nuclear fusion in the stars. Since these atoms make everything, including us, you can say that we too, are made from stuff that comes from stars!

Now that we’ve talked about atoms, it’s time to talk elements. An element is something that contains only one type of atom. Carbon contains only carbon atoms, Iron contains only iron atoms, and so on. These elements are important in that we all need them to survive. We need Nitrogen and Oxygen in our atmosphere to breathe and assist in cell growth and development. We need Iron for our muscles and for our blood. It’s important to get a good look at the elements of The Periodic Table, especially if you plan on making chemical reactions. Even just looking at the chemical formulas and relating them to the elements that you’ve seen will help you and your kids as you learn more about chemistry, plus it’s really fun to do! (Note: Look to the bottom of this post for some excellent resources on the Periodic Table!)

How do atoms connect together though? How do these things combine to make molecules and thus, everything else? Every atom contains at least one proton and one electron. Most of them also contain neutrons. Protons carry a positive charge, electrons carry a negative charge, and neutrons, well, they don’t carry any charge at all because they’re neutral! Protons and neutrons make up the nucleus (center) of an atom, while the electrons buzz around in layers around the nucleus (these layers make up the “electron cloud”). Every atom wants to carry the maximum amount of electrons that it can to fill its outer shell. Sometimes, they’ll stick to other atoms so they can use their electrons to fill their shells. When they do that, they’ve formed what is called a covalent bond (sometimes atoms of opposite charges will attract to each other. When this happens, it’s called an ionic bond.). When atoms form bonds like this, they form a molecule!

I wanted to really make sure that the girls understood how these all fit together to make up everything in the universe. To do that, it was time to get creative, and make some little molecules of our own!


Materials Needed:

Assorted colors of construction paper
Googly Eyes
Toothpicks (or wooden skewers cut down to 2″ pieces)
Extra craft supplies


1. Use Google to search for images of molecules. I like to find molecules that are familiar to the kids (water, sucrose, vanillin are some examples). Let your kids pick out which molecule they would like to make a critter out of.

2. Cut out several circles of your construction paper. These will serve as the individual atoms within the molecules

3. Have your kids arrange their atoms to match the structure of molecule they chose. Have them write the symbol of the atom on the corresponding pieces of construction paper. (In a water molecule, the two smaller atoms will have an H for Hydrogen, while the larger atom in the center will have an O for Oxygen. Refer to the Periodic Table if needed.)

4. Make your atomic connections with your toothpicks/skewers. Glue them together, and then decorate! You can make molecular caterpillars, dogs, dolls, rabbits, the possibilities are endless!

Next up, we’re going to mix different molecules together and see what happens! Let’s head into the kitchen for some common household ingredients, put them together, and see what kind of reactions we can get!


Materials Needed

1 or 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets
A clean 1-liter bottle
Vegetable oil
3/4 cup of water
Food coloring
Safety Goggles

Note: We used a flask for our demonstration, mostly because I wanted to use our new lab equipment. You’ll get a much bigger result with the 1-liter bottle recommended by Science Bob.


1. Put on your safety goggles!

2. Pour the water into the bottle.

3. Add oil to the bottle until it is filled nearly to the top. Wait as the layers separate, and get a good look at the differences in density between the two liquids.

4. Add 10-15 drops of food coloring. What happens as the food coloring enters the oil barrier. You’ll notice that the food coloring will remain in tight little spheres as it sinks down to the water layer. This is due to the surface tension of the water in the food coloring, and also to the fact that the oil is hydrophobic. This means that the atoms that make up the outer layer of the food coloring sphere won’t bond readily to the oil. This is why oil and water don’t mix!

5. After the food coloring has dissolved in the water, it’s time to add the Alka-Seltzer. Break the Alka-Seltzer tablets in half, and drop each half into the bottle, one at a time. Sit back and enjoy the reaction!

What happened?

The effervescent tablets begin to react with the water almost immediately, causing a chemical reaction resulting in a lot of Carbon Dioxide gas. These gas bubbles begin to rise to the surface, but once they hit the oil layer (remember that hydrophobic water?), the water droplets begin to retract to their spherical shapes. Because there is so much gas in the water, the drops rise to the surface of the oil where, once popped, the dense water sinks back down again.

While we were in the kitchen testing our new lab equipment, I thought it would be a good idea to try something new. I’ve heard that you can make a durable plastic out of milk. In fact, for hundreds of years, the proteins of milk have been used in everything from the pigments used for hieroglyphics to the jewelry worn by queens! I wanted to try this myself and we had just the ingredients to do it!


Materials Needed:

2 cups of milk
2 Tbsp (40 ml) of white vinegar
Strainer or cheesecloth
Cookie cutters
Pot and a stove
Paper towels/napkins
(Note: You can adjust the recipe to make as much plastic as you like. The ratio of vinegar to milk will always be 1 Tbsp of vinegar to 1 cup of milk, so adjust accordingly.)


1. Turn on the stove to medium heat, and pour your milk into a pot. You’ll want to slowly heat the milk until it’s hot and a bit foamy, but not enough that it’s boiling. Keep stirring while you heat the milk, for approximately 2-3 minutes.

2. Once the milk is sufficiently heated, slowly pour the vinegar in while continuously stirring.

3. Almost immediately you will begin to see a reaction forming with the milk and the vinegar. The milk will begin to turn a bit yellow and will start to curdle. Then, almost at once, all of the milk will break apart into clumps!

4. Pour the milk mixture through the strainer, allowing the excess liquid to pool in the bowl.

5. Remove the protein clumps from the strainer and pat dry with paper towels until it’s wet enough to mold into shapes, yet dry enough that it’s not oozing liquid while you move it around.

6. Flatten your proteins and shape them! I found that cookie cutters worked marvelously. Set your finished pieces on paper towels to dry. Drying time ranges from 3-7 days, depending on the humidity of your climate. Once it’s dry, get creative and decorate with paint and craft supplies!

What happened?

Milk is made mostly of fats and proteins. When you introduce the vinegar, the acid causes a chemical reaction resulting in the protein chains breaking apart and reforming into clumps, leaving behind the rest of the liquid, which is mostly water. These protein clumps are called Casein, and will harden into a durable plastic. The uses of this plastic have been quite varied throughout the ages. If you would like to learn more, here is a fantastic resource about the historic uses of casein plastic.

Finally, I wanted to end our week of chemistry with a bang. It was time for us to try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time…


The great thing about going to the store to buy Mentos and Diet Coke is that everyone already knows what you’re going to do with them. I had so many people excited talk about their own experiences making these geysers, or just wishing us well with ours! I’ve always wanted to try this, and I was really excited to get started!

Materials Needed:

2 liter bottle of Diet Coke
A roll of Mentos candy
A flat surface outside that you will be able to rinse with the hose
A piece of paper to act as a funnel
Safety Goggles


1. Put on your safety goggles!

2. Roll your piece of paper into a narrow tube. This will act as a funnel to put your Mentos in.

3. Open the Mentos and drop them into your tube.

4. Open the bottle of Diet Coke. Have everyone take a few steps back, you want to be at least 3′ from the bottle.

5. Quickly drop ALL of the Mentos into the Diet Coke. The tube will make it so that all of them will drop in a line, and will do so quickly. This is necessary because the reaction will be immediate. Back up!

6. Watch the crazy geyser!

What’s happening?

There are many suggestions as to why Mentos and Diet Coke react in the way that they do. The most popular has to do with the surface of the Mentos themselves. The surface of Mentos contains a lot of pores, little pock marks the dent the candy shell. It’s thought that these pores allow the carbon dioxide bubbles in the soda to form on them, and form quickly. Once these bubbles start forming, they don’t stop and they keep going until all of the carbon dioxide is released.

Wow. The girls and I had a fantastic week of chemistry, and it was awesome that we got to break in our new lab equipment in such a fun way! This week was filled with so many incredible moments. Not only did we get to create some cool chemical reactions, but the girls had some incredible epiphanies about the how the world works along the way! The girls were fascinated to see what some familiar atoms looked like, and were shocked to find that the very things that were in their bodies were the same things on the pages of our elements book (Iron is a metal, that’s really what’s in my cereal?!). They were amazed to realize that they were made of the same atoms that were forged in the stars, and they loved thinking about atoms sharing electrons together to form molecules (atoms have to share, just like kids!).

Our “Super Awesome Summer Camp of Science” is on a roll, and I love that I get to share in so many great experiences with these awesome girls!
Note: We talked a lot about the Periodic Table today. Here are some great resources to help you get better acquainted with it:

For a beautiful photographic look at the elements, check out The Periodic Table, done by Theodore Gray, who wrote the gorgeous book The Elements.

If you’d like some fun videos about the elements, what we use them for, and the chemical reactions that can be done with them, head over to The Periodic Table of Videos! Just click on whichever element you’re interested in learning about and sit back and watch the fun happen!

Happy Exploring!


  1. Thank you! When we first started out, I really wanted to know they hows and whys behind the demonstrations that we were doing. The demonstrations themselves are fun, but WHY did that happen? Learning this has made all of our science projects so much more interesting and I love sharing that fascination with people! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I just checked out your blog, I love it! I'm going to check you out on facebook too. You guys have some wonderful projects! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Awesome information and experiments! I love that you explain the science behind every experiment, which so many blogs don't do. I pinned just this page 5 times I think. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love your blog!

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