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15 Science Experiments You Can Do With Your Kids

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by Therese Oneill

Time to get messy, light some stuff on fire, and use food products in ways they were never intended! Parents and teachers across the internet have found fun ways to teach kids science, and have documented the experiments for the rest of us. Here are 15 hands-on science lessons that will stick in a kid’s brain far longer than anything they get from a textbook.

1. Lemony Sudsy Eruptions @ Blog Me Mom

Fun Quotient: A much less stinky take on the trusty vinegar and baking soda eruptions. The experiment uses citric acid, food coloring, and clear hand soap to make fluffy frothy science.

Teaches: The baking soda base and the citric acid create an endothermic reaction while releasing carbon dioxide in bubble form. You have to look up endothermic reaction on your own. 

2. Alcohol soaked Money on Fire @ Barefoot in Suburbia

Fun Quotient: Holy crud—you’re burning money! Fire! Money! Fire!

Teaches: Combustion, or what a fire likes to eat. Rubbing alcohol, yum. Cold wet cottony dollar under the alcohol, meh. Not enough to keep burning once the alcohol is gone.

3. Homemade Rock Candy Skewers @ Home made simple

Fun Quotient: It makes pretty rocks you can eat!

Teaches:  Water evaporates, the sugar crystals don’t. The sugar precipitates, meaning it separates from the supersaturated sugar water. Seed crystals form on your stick, attracting more sugar crystals, until finally, about a week later, you got yourself some tasty science on a stick.

4. Make Your Own Electromagnet @ Science Bob

Fun Quotient: They get to use sharp things and electricity, which is Frankenstein-level cool. 

Teaches: Electromagnets are everywhere. They make motors spin, CDs play, and most modern cars run. This experiment shows the difference between a permanent magnet (the ones on your fridge) and the kind that can be turned on and off at will. When turned on, the electricity forces the molecules in the nail to attract metal, even though the nail itself isn’t magnetic. 

5. Invisible Ink From Lemons @ Show Tell Share

Fun Quotient: Invisible ink! Hello? INVISIBLE INK!! (Also fire if you want to go that route, but it’s not necessary or entirely safe to do so).

Teaches: Good old oxidation. Lemon juice is acidic enough to resist oxidation in open air, but a little heat “rusts” it right up.  

6. Walking on Eggs @ Steve Spangler Science

Fun Quotient: Like walking on hot coals, but somehow more naughty!

Teaches: Structure matters. No matter how flimsy an egg shell is, its actual shape gives it amazing strength, as long as you put the weight in the right place. 

7. Tea Bag Rocket @ Ordinary Life Magic

Fun Quotient: I really don’t think one can overemphasize how much children enjoy watching things burst into flame and fly around the kitchen. 

Teaches: Hot air rises, natch. But it also teaches “convection current,” which is the force that makes it shoot into the air. 

See Also...

Man Wearing Mentos Suit Dropped in Tank of Diet Coke
10 Science Experiments You Can Eat With Your Kids
8 Countries With Fascinating Baby Naming Laws

8. Dancing Oobleck @ Housing a Forest

Fun Quotient: Oobleck is cornstarch and water, and if you didn’t play with it as a child then I am so sorry for you because you probably grew up in a Dickensian work house. By itself it’s fun, but add a sub-woofer and some paint, and you have a dance party. 

Teaches: Sound waves. You can’t see them, but they exist, and they like to party. 

9. Ivory Soap Monster @ bebe ala mode designs

Fun Quotient: Instead of having to wash with it, you get to nuke it until it becomes a frothy cloud of 99% pure mess.

Teaches: When the gas molecules trapped in the soft pliable soap get hot, they need more space. They make a break for it and take the soap with them. As the temperature of the gas increases so does its volume.

10.  Easy Marshmallow Catapult @ it’s always autumn

Fun Quotient: Weaponized Marshmallows.

Teaches: Force= Mass x Acceleration. A little thing going very fast will hit you just as hard as a big thing going slow. That’s Newton’s second law, don’t-cha-know. 

11. Magic Plastic Bag @ TinkerLab

Fun Quotient: Time to get stabby.

Teaches: How polymers work. Also, on a different level, why you’re not supposed to take the arrow out of a person after they get impaled in movies.

12. Gummy Bear Torture @ Science for Kids

Fun Quotient:  Deforming gummy bears with different evil potions, and the most gruesome of all: eating them.

Teaches: Osmosis, and which kinds of liquids do it best. 

13. Making an Optical Illusion @ Science-Sparks

Fun Quotient: It’s a teeny cartoon!

Teaches: Your eyes aren’t entirely reliable. Optical illusions occur because our brains fill in the gaps for whatever our eye isn’t processing. So two pictures become one.

14. Chain Reaction Popsicle Sticks @ Frugal Fun for Boys

Fun Quotient:  It’s tough to get started, but the payoff is clatter and splatter fun.

Teaches: Nuclear physics. Sorta. At least a demonstration of potential energy, kinetic energy, and chain reactions.

15. How to be a Polar Bear @ Discover and Learn

Fun Quotient: Goop is glory. 

Teaches: The natural glory of fat, and how arctic animals can survive temperatures that kill everything else.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]