"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mason the Scientist

Mason wanted to enter the school science fair this year. I always loved science and science fairs. In truth, I think I was more excited than he was. Nothing like living vicariously through your children.

I vaguely recall winning first place for a model of the solar system one year. (Doesn't every kid make a model of the solar system at some point?) And I was always envious of the "really cool" projects that some of the kids came up with. I mean, REAL volcanoes that erupt red lava all over the gym floor... who wouldn't love THAT? Well, apparently whomever had to clean it up year after year, because the #1 rule for the science fair this year was NO VOLCANOES. Noted.

Mason went back and forth and thought and thought about what he wanted to do for his project. He really wanted to make a battery or an engine, or possibly make something with magnets or robotics. All of the project ideas we found were too complicated, expensive, involved, or technical for a third grader. They also involved specialized parts from stores that we do not have here. And also, I know nothing about batteries, engines, or robotics. Not that I'm not willing to learn. But I encouraged him to choose something else. After an entire day of sitting home with the flu and thinking about his project, Mason decided he wanted to learn more about pH. He has experimented with my pH testing strips before and always had a lot of questions about why they turned different colors. Perfect!

He made a list of questions he had about pH, acid, and base, and then we researched the topic. He knows a lot about it now! Just ask him about how the potential of hydrogen relates to acid or base. His project question was, "How do acid and base effect living and non-living things?" His hypothesis table was hilarious. He figured that acid would burn up and melt everything because that's how it always goes down in movies. His project results completely surprised him.

First he tested all kinds of things around the house until he had found something from almost every pH. (Excluding 0 and 14, which hopefully nobody has sitting around the house.) I was really surprised by some of them as well. He made a pH scale and then picked the strongest acid and the strongest base for his project. They were both strong chemicals (toilet bowl cleaner and drain opener), so I handled the chemicals when it was time to use them.
Safely first!

He chose four objects to be his test subjects: Ellorie's hair, a steel nail, a penny, and a piece of wood. Each object was tested in the pH 1 acid, the pH 13 base, and the pH 7 water (neutral). He took careful observations after 1 minute, one hour, one day, and five days. Here are some pictures:

The water (control) after five days:

The acid :

and the base:

I was totally amazed that the toilet bowl cleaner completely gutted the penny leaving only the copper foil. No wonder plumbers use copper pipes. The nail was almost completely dissolved, and the wood looked like charcoal. The hair was a little bleached, but not really changed.

The base totally dissolved the hair. Not a strand left. The penny and nail were unchanged, and even still dirty. The wood looked like it was tanned. It was smaller, curved and orange in color.

Mason drew the conclusions that base strongly effects organic materials and can be dangerous to people. This is because a base strips molecules of hydrogen ions. Organic things don't like that very much. Metal isn't really effected by it. He decided that acids aren't as strong as he thought, but that they corrode metal because they "give" hydrogen ions which causes the metal to break down really fast. The nail looks like it was left outside for about 100 years because the acid caused extreme oxidation. The nail in the water has a tiny bit of rust due to normal oxidation in the water. So cool!

After he gathered all his "data" we followed the instructions in the science project guidelines. He made a really cool display.

Did you notice that he is somewhat obsessed with my Cricut? I had to help him with that part. He REALLY likes to use the Cricut.

It was excited to watch him really use his brain to learn something new. He had a whole week home with the flu to work on things, so it was pretty detailed. That binder in front of the project is chock full of his hypothesis, observations, results, conclusions, etc. It sort of made me want to homeschool. For about five minutes. I'm over it now. Maybe someday.

The science fair is tonight, but it's a "closed" science fair, for judges only. LAME! I totally wanted to see all the cool projects. We have to go pick them up at the end, so maybe I'll sneak over a bit early to peek at all of the displays.

Hooray for science!

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