Beginning Science Projects

The world we live in is really made up of tiny tiny little objects called atoms. They are so small that you can’t see them even if you look through a regular microscope. To see an atom a scientist needs to get a really expensive, gigantic microscope. We won’t need one of those.

Why not, you might ask?

Because many people have used the scientific method to establish that there are these tiny atoms. So, we can generally trust that they are correct about such things. Let’s agree with what I’m going to say about the atom so that we can get on to the experiment, O.K.?

The experiment I have in mind is about atoms, and how they hold together. Because you might ask yourself, if the world is made up of tiny little pieces, why don’t those pieces fall apart? That is a good question.

One of the answers is because of static electricity. Static electricity is that jolt you get sometimes when you walk across the carpet and then touch a door, for instance. It’s the thing that makes strands of hair stick to the comb after you’re done brushing your hair for a while. Sometimes you can even see a tiny spark of electricity when static electricity is present.

Static electricity happens when atoms get excited. Why? Atoms aren’t just atoms. They’re really made up of even tinier pieces of matter. Every atom is made up of parts even smaller than itself. In every atom, right in the middle of it, is a thing called a nucleus. We aren’t going to talk about it today, except to say that circling around the nucleus are tiny pieces called electrons. These extremely small pieces have energy, which at this point is invisible. This energy gives the atom what is called a charge.

A lot of things in life are either positive or negative, when you get down to basics, and that’s the way these tiny pieces of the atom are made. The electron’s charge of electricity is negative. An atom can either lose or gain electrons, or the electrons can move around within the atom itself. When an electron changes orbits around the nucleus, or an atom loses or gains an electron, energy comes out of that atom. This energy is sometimes called static electricity.

Static electricity doesn’t happen with all atoms all the time, but just with some, some of the time. That’s the beauty of science. You have to be really careful about what you say is true. But when you, as the scientist, find out what is true, you’ll be able to prove it again and again. It’s up to you, the scientist to discover just what is true and when.

Let’s do an experiment, o.k.?

Let’s see if we can see the effect of static electricity.

You’ll need a blown up balloon and your head, assuming that you have hair on your head. You’ll also need a wall.

Hypothesis: Static electricity can be created by rubbing a balloon on my head of hair.

To prove this hypothesis, do the following:

Take a balloon, blow it up, put a knot in it so all the air doesn’t come out. Rub it up and down across your head for at least a minute.

Now stick that balloon to the wall.

Does it stay on the wall?

If it does, you’ve created static electricity, and your hypothesis is true.

Now, email me, telling me what static electricity is.

Let’s try something a little more complicated. You might need some help getting all your supplies ready with this experiment.

Hypothesis: You can light a fluorescent light bulb with a balloon.

You’ll need a balloon, a dark room, and a fluorescent light bulb. To keep things safe, you’ll also need a roll of tape.

Experiment directions:

  1. Wrap the bulb with tape. (This is so that in case it breaks, it won’t splatter all over the place.) Safety is important.

  2. Take the light bulb into a dark room.

  3. Charge the light bulb with your hair, as you did in the earlier experiment. Make sure that the charge is strong by rubbing the balloon on your head for a good three minutes.

  4. Carefully bring the balloon to the light bulb, and make the light bulb touch the balloon where it was rubbing your head.

  5. Look very carefully when you do this because you should see tiny sparks where they touch.

If you do see the sparks in the light bulb, you can say that the balloon lit up the light bulb. This means that your hypothesis is true.