Chemistry for kids: Make a DIY bubble snake!

A fun and completely safe experiment for the family to try during quarantine.

KATE THE CHEMIST: If you are at home and stuck with your kid you might as well do something fun and educational with them. What I've done here is put together a super, super fun science demonstration that is safe to do at home with your kids and hopefully all these ingredients you already have in your pantry or your craft drawer or something like that because I don't know about you, but I get maxed out on screen time so I think it's really fun to do something kinesthetic with your hands. And if you can learn something while you're doing it you might as well have fun too. Okay, this is called the bubble snake and I'm going to explain first the ingredients and then give you step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

First things first is you need to get a small plastic soda bottle or a water bottle. I have these little ones in my garage because I use them when I breathe fire but the bigger soda bottles or water bottles work just as well because what you're going to do with it is actually just cut it off so you have the top part of it but I'll get there in just a second. So, any size bottle will do. You need food coloring. I prefer the reds and the pinks when I'm doing this outside but because of being on camera I'm going to use greens and blues for you. You're going to need a half cup of water, a quarter cup of dish soap, a bowl to mix your dish soap and water, a spoon, one rubber band and then an old rag. You can use a sock, you can use a rag, you can use a towel, a tee shirt. Anything will really work for this. You just don't want something that's super, super porous or super thick.

The first thing you're going to do is you're going to take your plastic soda bottle or water bottle and you're going to cut off the bottom part. You only want the top portion of your soda bottle. So a perfect one is going to look like this. You're gong to see your top part here and then it's cut off right there at the edge. Then what you're going to do is take your old rag and you're going to wrap it around the edge of your soda bottle so that's where your rubber band comes into play. You're going to wrap the rubber band around your towel just like this. Two or three times should be absolutely plenty. You just want to make sure that towel sticks on here. I did this once and the rubber band snapped and the stuff went all over this actor's head because I was doing it on camera. It was an awesome day but the poor guy was covered in food coloring.

Once you have this you're going to put it off to the side and we're going to build our little concoction over here. In your bowl you need to have a quarter cup of dish soap. Any bubbles will do. Bubble bath will work if you're keeping your dish soap around for quarantine time which I totally understand. Then you've got a half cup of water so you're going to add that into your dish soap. Now you want to make sure that you stir this together so completely stir. And I would stir for at least 10 or 15 seconds. I'm not going to do that for you here but make sure you stir for a long time because you want to make sure that your solution is super bubbly. You don't want to dip your bubble snake apparatus into just water. You want to make sure you have the soap as well. So then you're going to take this, flip it upside down so that your towel is exposed and then grab your food coloring. Now the goal is to cover your entire patch down here, the whole piece on this side. Cover they entire thing with your food coloring. I like to do stripes and zig-zags and patterns with all types of different colors, but just for the sake of time today I'm just going to use a big green blob. Not super attractive but it will work for our purpose here.

Then what I'm going to do is I'm just going to move my soap out of the way for a second here. Now is the fun part. You're going to take your apparatus. Now you're going to dunk it food coloring side down into your dish soap water bowl. When you pick it up let it drain. You're going to see that the food coloring comes off, totally normal. But if you're type A like me and you don't like lots of messes let it drain into the bowl. Now, for the fun part. Once it stops draining you're going to go from the side. Take a deep breath and you blow. And you make this incredible bubble snake. And so what you're doing is you're exhaling all of this gas that's in your lungs out so there's nitrogen molecules, oxygen, carbon dioxide, even some water in here. If you can go outside but stay within your little area six feet away from everybody, you can let the wind actually carry this bubble snake around and it is so fun. I love, love, love it.

So what I love about this experiment is it's something you can do at home with your kids. It is completely safe. There's nothing here that's dangerous at all. No explosions or fire or anything, but you're outside, you're engaged, you're having a good time, you're outside, you're engaged, you're having a good time, some family time, but you're learning as well. The kids might ask you what are the molecules that are in your exhale and you can talk about how you exhale carbon dioxide and oxygen and nitrogen. I just think it's so fun to spend some time with the family and do some science as well. So, if you're looking for other experiments you can check out my Big Book of Experiments which has 25 experiments that you can do with things that are at home hopefully in your kitchen right now.

  • Most of us are staying home to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, but that doesn't mean there isn't learning and fun to be had.
  • It's important to take a break from screen time. Kate the Chemist, professor, science entertainer, and author of "The Big Book of Experiments," has just the activity: Creating a bubble snake using common household ingredients including dish soap, food coloring, rubber bands, a towel, and a small plastic bottle.
  • In this step-by-step tutorial, Kate walks us through the simple process of building the apparatus and combining materials to bring the fun snakes to life.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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