Hands-On Science Activities

I've run science demonstrations at science fiction conventions, schools, and museums, because hands-on science activities are great.

Back in 2013, my friend Dr. Raychelle Burks started the DIY Science Zone at Geek Girl Con. She invited me to be part of it, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s a lot of fun running hands-on science activities and showing people neat science. The DIY Science Zone went so well that I…borrowed the idea for the Dragon Con Science Track, where we hold the Science Power Hour.Doing hands-on science activities at the Geek Girl Con DIY Science Zone

There are a lot of really great resources for science activities out there if you want to try your hand at them. For kids, I’m especially fond of Liz Heinecke’s blog, The Kitchen Pantry Scientist. If you want some specific suggestions, here are demos that I love. WARNING: I’m an unabashed physics and space nerd, so a lot of my demos tend to focus on those areas.

Pocket Solar SystemThe Pocket Solar System is a great way to show that, in Douglas Adams’s words, space is big. Really big. You use cash register tape (or any long strip of paper) and either colored pens or stickers to mark where the planets go. Before participants start making their solar system, try having them sketch out where they think the planets go. It helps drive home how far away Uranus, Neptune and Pluto really are from us.

Laser light diffracting around a human hairIf you shine laser light on a strand of your hair, it bends around it. The light then interferes with itself, making dark and light band. You can measure how far apart those dark and light bands and figure out how thick your hair is. Lasers! Is there anything they can’t do?

Making a comet using dry iceMaking comets using dry ice is excellent because you have to use gloves and eye protection. Nothing says “science” like “this hands-on activity might hurt you if you do it wrong, so wear this protective equipment”. You add water, dirt, corn syrup, and ammonia and you end up with a snowball that shoots jets of gas out of it, just like an actual comet.

(Hair diffraction picture courtesy of Ben Elwell. Dry ice comet picture courtesy of Penn State.)