science and silliness

Last week, our homeschool group had a math and science fair. Kids shared displays on a math or science topic. At our history fair in the spring, Mr. T had been disappointed that few kids seemed interested in his “history of the planets” display. He wanted more visitors this time. 

No problem. He decided that he wanted to do “fizzy” experiments. To guarantee an audience, he would display as alter ego Dr. Curlybrain, mad scientist. 

For a few weeks we tried out simple experiments at home to find a few good ones. Our inspiration was the fun book Cool Chemistry Concoctions: 50 Formulas that Fizz, Foam, Splatter & Ooze. The winners: cleaning pennies with salt and vinegar; a lava-lamp-like jar to shake, filled with oil and food-colored water; a jar with layers of liquids of different densities in which small items could be dropped and their landing layers predicted. But the real crowd magnets were the one in which a hard-boiled egg got sucked into a small-necked bottle by the force of a lighted match, and the one that had him inflating a balloon by filling it with baking soda and attaching it to a vinegar-filled bottle. 

dr.curlybrain in action

As his audience started growing, Mr. T seemed to forget he was a mad scientist, and morphed into a stand-up comic instead. He tossed off stream-of-consciousness jokes that often made no sense–anything to keep that audience from moving on. What, you don’t think vinegar is funny? How about if I pour it on my mom?

In the weeks of trying out the experiments, Mr. T kept a logbook. He made that fun too. (And yes, he drew a log on the cover.) He gave each experiment a silly name–the baking soda-inflated balloon experiment was christened The Power Pump–and eventually started drawing comics for each experiment.

In the penny-cleaning experiment, the chloride from salt combines with the hydrogen from vinegar and forms hydrochloric acid, a solution strong enough to clean pennies. He came up with this (I wrote the characters’ names for him):

hydrochloric acid comic

After the fair, the science fun continued, as my friend Susan from In the Kitchen wrote a post recommending They Might Be Giants’ new science album, Here Comes Science. (Go read her post. There’s singing! There are many reallys!) We bought the CD the next day–it’s just Mr.T’s cup of hot chocolate. There’s science! There’s silliness! He was especially taken with the song “Meet the Elements”.

“Hey! I want to draw a bunch of comics about elements that react against each other!”

This announcement came as I was trying to get us to some appointment or meeting, and I was madly dashing to assemble snacks, coats, assure the rabbits had been fed…

Him: Can you Google some chemical reactions for me?

Me: Buddy, I’m trying to get us out the door.

Him: Just Google it real fast and I’ll read it.

Me: You can’t just Google chemical reactions. Why don’t you draw a comic for water–two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen? (This was the best I could manage in my mad dash to fill water bottles. I do not possess multi-tasking skills.)

Him: (wailing) I can’t have two of the same element in my comic!

I promised we would research the next day. (But can you Google some chemical reactions for me makes me smile, now that I’m not rushing out the door. Ah, the fathomless faith of an eight-year-old in his mother’s ability to work out what he dreams up.)

So today we researched. And he did make that comic about water. With just one hydrogen atom.

rust in peace

He also made one about gold. (Apparently he got over his distaste for drawing two atoms of the same element.) I’m not sure there’s any solid science in this one, but it cracks me up. Do you see what the two gold atoms are saying to each other upon meeting? (I probably should have added an extra e to make Spar-kle-us three syllables.)

I'm sparkleus!

“I’m Sparkleus!” “I’m Sparkleus!” That’s Mr. T’s little homage to Spartacus. You know, the scene when all the slaves claim to be Spartacus, to protect the real Spartacus? I’m Spartacus! No, I’m Spartacus!

I have no idea what that has to do with gold. I’m telling you, this kid is twisted. But hey, I’m up for anything, if it makes science fun.

15 comments… add one
  • susan Nov 21, 2009 @ 22:49

    I wish we could have been there to see it! Mr. T. makes an awesome mad scientist. I love how he identified a problem: not enough people came to his booth, and set out to solve it. The experiments he chose sound like so much fun. I am particularly intrigued by the layers of liquids and where different objects would stop. I want to try that one.

    The cartoons are fantastic! I love iron getting grabbed by the water. Ev and Clem devoured a book called Understanding Comics. I expect they’ll like it again in a few years. It has a lot of depth. Mr. T might like it.

    Oh, and thanks for the link to me! I’m glad Mr. T’s liking Here Comes Science. The Elements is one of my faves. But you would never catch me singing it at the top of my lungs LIKE A BOX OF PAINTS THAT ARE MIXED TO MAKE EVERY SHADE when the kids aren’t in the car. No way.

    I just notice the title of the Iron cartoon…Rust in Peace! I love it.

    • patricia Nov 22, 2009 @ 18:21

      Susan, to do the density experiment, just layer the following liquids in a jar: corn syrup or honey first, then water with a few drops of food coloring, then vegetable oil, then rubbing alcohol. Pour them over the back of a spoon, slowly, so they don’t mix with the lower layers. (The food coloring differentiates the water and alcohol, and just makes the layers look cool.) Then drop in small items: pasta, a small key or bolt, a raisin, half a peanut, a grain of rice, etc. Items will sink through liquids with less density than they have; they’ll float on layers with more density. It’s a lot of fun!

      I reserved Understanding Comics from the library. It sounds great.

      I had to laugh about the hypothetical example of you singing the box of paints line, because I kept singing that very same line over and over the other morning, and Mr. T had to ask me to stop. Those are some catchy tunes!

  • melissa s. Nov 22, 2009 @ 11:42

    Wishing I had a Mr T-authored comic/textbook back in college Organic chemistry class. Now that would’ve made lab FUN!

    • patricia Nov 22, 2009 @ 22:52

      Several years ago, one of my friends’ husbands talked about designing a Pokemon style card game, based on the elements. Wouldn’t that be fun?

      Hmm. Sounds like an idea for Mr. T…

  • Tara @ TheOrganicSister Nov 23, 2009 @ 22:00

    haha Love his comic. “I’m Sparkleus!” And thanks for sharing the density experiment. I may take that one to our park day this week. 🙂

    • patricia Nov 23, 2009 @ 23:22

      The kids at our science fair had fun with the density experiment. Give it a test run at home. And make sure you bring something to withdraw the dropped objects–the jar gets pretty cluttered when lots of kids try it. I used kiddie, joined-together chopsticks to pull things out of the jar.

      I forgot to mention that a ping pong ball is fun to add–or something else buoyant enough to stay on the top level.

      Have fun if you try it!

  • Dawn Nov 23, 2009 @ 22:01

    “Come on, come on and meet the elements”….oh we love that song and so many more. “I never go to work” it a hit over here too.

    Love this and love the “how about I pour some on my mom” bit 😉

    • patricia Nov 23, 2009 @ 23:23

      Luckily he didn’t really pour it on me. But I wouldn’t put it past him. Anything for a laugh.

  • Carrie Nov 24, 2009 @ 20:33

    Oh too fun! Mr. T’s comics are fantastic. I especially like the cast of characters in the penny cleaning experiment. I think he should bring his element comics to the next creature club…

    Jesse’s favorite songs are the sun pair, but the next runner up is the elements song . He has been doing shrinkydink element “guys”, inspired by this book:

    As for elemnt games, i would love to see what Mr. T comes up with. This pokemon style elements game is coming to our house this Christmas

    Is Theodore Gray ( the author of the above game link) your husbands friend?


    • patricia Nov 25, 2009 @ 8:50

      Carrie, I know I can count on you to be my go-to science resource!

      You already knew about the TMBG album. Of course.

      The Periodic Table book looks fun! I ordered it from the library.

      And no, it looks like Theodore Gray beat my friend to the Pokemon elements game…but how fantastic that it really exists! It just might have to come to our house this Christmas too!

      Thanks, as usual, for the recommendations!

  • Sarah Nov 25, 2009 @ 8:47

    This is GREAT stuff!
    Alright, I have to share mine.. to clean a copper kettle ( or anything copper for that matter), cover it in ketsup and let it sit.

    You have inspired me this morning, I am going to have to do some of these with the kiddos, I totally forgot about the egg in the jar. I love these ( I will always be a kid at heart)
    Happy Thanksgiving to you friend!

    • patricia Dec 1, 2009 @ 7:56

      A very belated happy Thanksgiving to you too.

      Hey, if ketchup works for cleaning copper, I’ll bet vinegar and salt would work too. It works on pennies! Why didn’t I think of that?

  • Kristin Nov 29, 2009 @ 10:12

    Mr.T sure had a blast that day and so did all of his friends. He got the audience he desired. Maybe he’ll become a scientist…

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