Making an ice lamp

It’s not quite the building of the icehotel, but…

We have done a lot of science related experiments and activities recently.  The one described here is is probably not the most educational, but the children loved the result.  It is quite messy – we got very wet – but that only added to the fun!  We used the Richard Hammond Blast Lab Science Experiments Project Book as guidance.

Steps 4 and 5 were the most fun.  And the most messy.  The balloon got surprisingly heavy as it filled with water.  (Luckily it didn’t burst, but I thought it might.)  More than once the balloon was not properly attached to the tap and water ended up spurting everywhere.  And the speed that the water shot uncontrollably out of the balloon once the air had all eascaped and we were trying to complete steps 5 and 6 was surprising for all (and particularly entertaining for our 6 year old spectator!).

If you want to make a coloured ice lamp put some food colouring into the balloon before step 4 when you put the water into the balloon.  (We tried to do it the other way around, and got very wet and, that time, very blue!)  It would probably have been wise to practice making a water-only ice lamp first – all components other than the balloon, water and food colouring can be used again and again.

If you want to make a hand shaped ice lamp, use a rubber glove instead of a balloon.

Here’s how to make an ice lamp.  You need:

  • 2 20cm pieces of wire
  • scissors
  • an LED light
  • electrical tape
  • a balloon
  • food colouring (optional)
  • 2 elastic bands
  • a bowl that can go in the freezer
  • a 3V battery

This is what you do:

  1. Strip both wires at both ends.
  2. Wrap one end of one wire around one of the LED leads, and one end of the other wire around the other LED lead.  Fix each in place using electrical tape.
  3. Blow up the balloon and let it go down a few times.  (I think this helps avoid getting wet in step 4.)
  4. Fill the balloon with water, then blow some air in.  We got very wet during this part, so approach carefully or with a sense of humour!
  5. Push the LED into the balloon, leaving the wires hanging out.  We got very wet during this bit too.  We guess the reason for blowing air into the balloon is so that air rather than water comes out when you put the LED in place!
  6. Let out most of the remaining air from the balloon (the LED should be in the water).  Then seal the end of the balloon with the elastic bands.
  7. Dry the outside of the balloon, place in the bowl and put in the freezer.
  8. When the water is frozen, peel off / cut off the balloon.
  9. Tape each protruding wire to a different side of the battery (if the light doesn’t come on, turn the battery over so each side is connecting with the other wire).

You have just made your own glowing ice lamp!

The educational bit is that light can travel through ice, but that some wavelengths are absorbed more than others.  Air bubbles and ice crystals also reflect light out at different angles.  I have to say none of this was at all evident with our dark blue ice lamp.  If you want to experience the learning about light aspects of your endeavours, I think you may need to omit the food colouring.

But it is just possible that the most entertaining aspect for the children was having made a dark blue ice ball rather than anything relating to light at all!

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Beastly Machines

This weekend we got out and about again.  This time we went to the Kingston Museum.  This was our first visit and we learnt lots of new things about our adopted town.

Of particular interest was the Beastly Machines exhibition.  This is a travelling exhibition by kinetic sculptor, Johnny White.  The sculptures you see in the exhibition are mainly large-scale metal objects brought to life at the push of a button.  And since those metal objects are animals, the push of the button does child-amusing things such as making the dog bark or wag his tail, or making the bird ride a bike.  These are often accompanied by a poignant commentary and there are also a number of interactive educational displays.

I won’t say much more as I don’t want spoil it for anyone who goes.  If it’s coming to a town near you, it’s worth a visit.  Click here for the itinerary.

The exhibition closes in Kingston on until 14 January 2012, but it looks as though there is another interesting exhibition planned, so I suspect we’ll be going back.


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Flash Bang Wallop!

I took the children (age 6 and 8) to the Science Museum in London today.  We have been loads of times and in many ways that makes the trip feel unsuitable for my first blog – we weren’t intrepid travellers venturing into the unknown.  We weren’t even day tripping to a new place.  We were simply going somewhere we all know and love and where we always discover something new (and enjoy a few familiar spots too).

The real hits from today were

  • learning how to use the Japanese abacus (a great way of checking they understand the concept of tens and units) and the counting machine next to it – both in the mathematics section.  Both unlikely highlights which we stumbled across whilst looking at something I thought was interesting, but they didn’t!
  • self-inflicted electric shocks from the “Do not touch” installation in the Fuelling the Future exhibit;
  • computer games about renewable energies in the Fuelling the Future exhibit;
  • Flash Bang Wallop – a show about explosions in the Launch Pad.

I imagine most children aged 4 and over would enjoy much of what we saw today.  Some of our usual haunts – below – are probably more suitable for younger children.

We also had a look in the Health Matters section.  This area is less interactive than the more obvious child-oriented exhibits.  There are lots of snippets of information to keep my 8 year old interested and video clips kept the 6 year old happy for a while.  For me there were a number of interesting factoids – did you know that many experienced doctors resented the introduction of x-rays?!

Our previous visits have focussed on

  • The Garden (when the children were aged 2-4 years), which my son especially loved
  • The Launchpad (a massive interactive area where the children play and experience lots of the O level Physics I remember from school – without the calculations and equations)
  • Flight (lots of exhibits to view, not terribly interactive, but it seems planes and helicopters don’t need to be!)
  • The Bubble Show (which is truly brilliant, suitable for even the youngest child and seen so often by our family we could probably present the show!)

There really is loads to do at the Science Museum.  And because it’s free you can pop in for the odd hour, or make a full day of it.

Lunch options at the museum include at least two cafes, where the food is fine and the prices are what you’d expect in Central London (ie. high!), but the cafes do get very busy.  (NB. I noticed they’ve extended the seating area of the main ground floor cafe, so perhaps this problem is resolved now).  We usually take a picnic.  There is a big picnic area with tables and chairs on the third floor (near The Launch Pad).  It too gets busy, but we have always managed to grab a table at what I imagine is peak time (12.30-1pm).  The area is kept clean by the cafe staff and, given this is all free, I would say it is really rather good.


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