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Simple Science Experiments: Simply Shocking Way to Spice Up the New Year

Ready to spice up the New Year? You’re going to start with a mixture of salt and pepper and then, shockingly, separate them!

How can you do it? Set a plate or bowl out with the two spices mixed together. Well? Maybe you can come up with a cool technique for shaking up these spices, but did you know you that static electricity can easily separate the salt from the pepper for you?

So what is static electricity? Have you ever shuffled across the carpet and then reached out for a doorknob, only to get a shock when you touch it? Hmmm, wonder why that happens? Let’s explore the science behind static electricity and figure out how to use it to separate two substances.

Materials:

  • Small plate
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Balloon
  • Flannel shirt

Procedure:

  1. Combine the salt and pepper on the plate. Mix them well so it is hard to just pull them apart.
  2. Blow up the balloon and tie it shut.
  3. Rub the balloon vigorously on a flannel shirt (or any shirt should probably do). You’ll know when you have the balloon charged up when it starts to crackle, or if it makes your hair stand up if the balloon touches your locks.
  4. Hover the balloon over the top of the salt and pepper. Watch what the pepper does!

Explanation:

If properly charged, the balloon will attract the tiny ground pepper flakes immediately out of the salt! Those little bits will be plastered right onto the side of the balloon. But why? First off, when you rub the balloon on the flannel shirt, there are tiny things called “electrons” that move from the shirt to the balloon. Electrons are the bits in everything around us that are responsible for the movement of heat and electricity. Now the balloon is supercharged with these particles.

This charge will attract certain objects. Like the hair on your head… maybe the wall. Did you try to stick the balloon to the wall? The salt won’t move for reasons that you might understand in chemistry and physics classes in high school, but we’re just having fun at home for now.

Experiment further:

Good scientists think of questions they can ask and ways to change a system. Can you? Think about other things that the balloon might attract. Roll a piece of paper into a small tube and see if you can roll it on a table. Here’s a trick: Charge up the balloon and then slowly bring it closer to a thin stream of water from the faucet. It will bend the water out of the way!

Steve Davala is a middle school science teacher and author of The Soulkind Awakening. He’s has two kids and subjects them to such science activities as guinea pigs. Follow him on Twitter at @sdavala


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