Experiments
Kari Byron, Mythbuster Mom: How Do You Get Kids Interested in Science?

KariCloseUp-e1308329695929GeekMom is thrilled to bring our readers another column by Kari Byron, the female face on the hit Discovery Channel show MythBusters and host of the Science Channel’s new Head Rush. Kari sends us regular updates on life as a MythBuster Mom.

Science is hot right now. Everywhere I travel parents are in a panic to get their kids interested in science. I guess one day, America woke up and realized our pipeline of home-grown engineers, scientists, and inventors was drying up.

Let’s face it: subjects like science and math have an unfortunate reputation for being boring and dry and, dare I say, even “nerdy.” Honestly, that is how I felt when I was 12. Science was so often taught as a list of facts to memorize: “List the components of a cell,” “What does H2O stand for?” “Who is the father of the theory of relativity?” Snore. I didn’t understand why science couldn’t be more like art class. So I can understand where kids are coming from today.

Another huge roadblock for students is the lack of role models in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (what the President calls the STEM initiative) in our media-driven world of glamour, fame, and money. Close your eyes and picture a scientist. Do you see an awkward nerdy man with bad posture, glasses and a lab coat? Who wants to be him when you are inundated with exciting visions of gorgeous movie stars and rich athletes?

Solutions aren’t easy. Parents ask me, “How do I get my kid into science?”

The good news is that if you are asking that question it probably means you are half way there. Being involved is an amazing start. A parent is the most important role model, regardless of what your eye-rolling tween says.

I like to teach science to kids like I teach art. Get their hands dirty. Engage their natural curiosity. Drop Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke and let it explode all over the backyard. Snap! That’s chemistry. Show them science isn’t just answers on an exam, but the world all around you. Take a nature walk with a camera. Bring home pictures of animals and find out what they eat, when they sleep. Snap! That’s biology. I also like to call it hiding the broccoli in the cheese sauce. Making science more hands-on creates a base of scientific literacy as well as quality time bonding. Your kids will be learning in spite of themselves. That look of wonder and discovery you see in their faces will become addictive -– for both of you.

That’s how MythBusters became a juggernaut of science engagement for kids. We weren’t trying to teach science, we were just having fun while using science as a tool. They see us having fun and join us on the journey.

There you have it, sage advice from a totally unqualified former art major who now loves science and uses it every day.

Kari Byron is a born tinkerer and explorer. By the age of 5, she was experimenting on her sister and using dolls as crash test dummies. Luckily for her parents, they always caught her right before her little sister took a ride down a laundry chute or was the subject of an "around-the-world" attempt on the playground swings. Kari began her career as a sculptor and painter before finding her dream jobs on MythBusters and Head Rush, where she gets to explore and experiment to her heart’s content. Kari lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.

80 Comments
  1. Cathe Post
    Cathe Post

    Thankfully, I grew up near Portland, Oregon where there is an AMAZING Science Museum called OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) My kids aren’t quite old enough to appreciate it – but I’m hoping visits to that museum are as helpful to getting my kids interested in science as it was to my parents 20+ years ago.

    • George Steel

      Those in Portland should check out a group called Rewild Portland. They have been doing a lot to get people of all ages (including kids) interested in and doing science. They run weekly open meeting in a park where people get together and do cool experiments and also teach courses, some experimenting with new teaching methods.

      Also, check out the work of Tom Brown Jr. He’s done a lot of work in biology education and has written extensively on it. Some of his science books are quite entertaining and would make great stories for kids.

  2. Cathe Post
    Cathe Post

    Thankfully, I grew up near Portland, Oregon where there is an AMAZING Science Museum called OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) My kids aren’t quite old enough to appreciate it – but I’m hoping visits to that museum are as helpful to getting my kids interested in science as it was to my parents 20+ years ago.

    • George Steel

      Those in Portland should check out a group called Rewild Portland. They have been doing a lot to get people of all ages (including kids) interested in and doing science. They run weekly open meeting in a park where people get together and do cool experiments and also teach courses, some experimenting with new teaching methods.

      Also, check out the work of Tom Brown Jr. He’s done a lot of work in biology education and has written extensively on it. Some of his science books are quite entertaining and would make great stories for kids.

  3. I am a mechanical engineer that produced an Art major and an English major, how do you think I feel?

    • They too can change the world (despite Garrison Keilor’s sendup of English Majors on Prairie Home Companion). We need artists and writers telling the stories they read, stories that turn them into people like my cousin who woke up one morning in a rainforest canopy in Madagascar being groomed by a lemur (PhD in entomology).

  4. I am a mechanical engineer that produced an Art major and an English major, how do you think I feel?

    • They too can change the world (despite Garrison Keilor’s sendup of English Majors on Prairie Home Companion). We need artists and writers telling the stories they read, stories that turn them into people like my cousin who woke up one morning in a rainforest canopy in Madagascar being groomed by a lemur (PhD in entomology).

  5. Kate Miller

    Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more, Kari. I LOVE doing these whiz-bang-pow investigations of the natural world with my two little kids and their friends. Kids are natural scientists, I think. They hypothesize, observe, and test out the physical world every moment of their lives. We just have to encourage them!

  6. Kate Miller

    Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more, Kari. I LOVE doing these whiz-bang-pow investigations of the natural world with my two little kids and their friends. Kids are natural scientists, I think. They hypothesize, observe, and test out the physical world every moment of their lives. We just have to encourage them!

  7. We have a mythbusters science kit on the kitchen table that my 9 year old daughter can’t wait to dig into. She has a tough choice, because she wants to build the electric paper aiplane launcher too.

  8. We have a mythbusters science kit on the kitchen table that my 9 year old daughter can’t wait to dig into. She has a tough choice, because she wants to build the electric paper aiplane launcher too.

  9. my 5 yr old LOVES mythbusters…he let the dog take a bite of his toast the other day..held it up..and said “Well THERE’S your problem” in a Jamie voice..LOL…he tries to launch tinker toys across the room with a big rubber band and then wants to go measure the distance they traveled….he was sooo tickled over the throwing pooh into the fan episode…but even my teenager talks more about the polymers and experiements in science class than anything else……its all in how you package it

  10. my 5 yr old LOVES mythbusters…he let the dog take a bite of his toast the other day..held it up..and said “Well THERE’S your problem” in a Jamie voice..LOL…he tries to launch tinker toys across the room with a big rubber band and then wants to go measure the distance they traveled….he was sooo tickled over the throwing pooh into the fan episode…but even my teenager talks more about the polymers and experiements in science class than anything else……its all in how you package it

  11. I love on Mythbusters after a commercial when they play the little blip of them all saying, “Don’t do this at home, we are what they call ‘experts’!”, and then you can almost see the twinkle in their eye that says, “But we know that you want to! Go ahead and at least do the small scale version!!”

  12. I love on Mythbusters after a commercial when they play the little blip of them all saying, “Don’t do this at home, we are what they call ‘experts’!”, and then you can almost see the twinkle in their eye that says, “But we know that you want to! Go ahead and at least do the small scale version!!”

  13. A few weeks ago, I had a gaggle of girls in my kitchen and cake mixes, so we took a basic cake mix, and swapped out ingredients for what the back of the box called for. For the liquid we tried soda, and koolaid. We left the eggs out of one. We changed out the butter for oil, applesauce, and frosting (girls’ idea, not mine). They loved coming up with reasons why each one was different.

  14. A few weeks ago, I had a gaggle of girls in my kitchen and cake mixes, so we took a basic cake mix, and swapped out ingredients for what the back of the box called for. For the liquid we tried soda, and koolaid. We left the eggs out of one. We changed out the butter for oil, applesauce, and frosting (girls’ idea, not mine). They loved coming up with reasons why each one was different.

  15. Brenda

    I created a science club at my son’s school 4 years ago and am still going. The interest among 3rd-5th graders was very high. However, the number of kids participating in middle school is much lower. I’m always looking for cheap easy projects to do.

  16. Brenda

    I created a science club at my son’s school 4 years ago and am still going. The interest among 3rd-5th graders was very high. However, the number of kids participating in middle school is much lower. I’m always looking for cheap easy projects to do.

  17. Hi Kari,
    We have a lot in common, our name to start, and I have a 1 year old daughter too. I love watching Mythbusters and dream of the day I’m doing crazy fun sicence experiments with her. Right now we’re studying gravity. Thanks for the tips and all the fun!

    • LOL! I remember watching a psychologist, a young mother and a toddler (who was throwing things on the floor). Mom kept saying, “no, no no…” and picking up the toys. The psychologist finally told her “He’s experimenting with gravity.” They really are at that age.

  18. Hi Kari,
    We have a lot in common, our name to start, and I have a 1 year old daughter too. I love watching Mythbusters and dream of the day I’m doing crazy fun sicence experiments with her. Right now we’re studying gravity. Thanks for the tips and all the fun!

    • LOL! I remember watching a psychologist, a young mother and a toddler (who was throwing things on the floor). Mom kept saying, “no, no no…” and picking up the toys. The psychologist finally told her “He’s experimenting with gravity.” They really are at that age.

  19. Roger R

    While I was in elementary school I remember building models of the Mercury, Gemini & Apollo spacecraft with their launch vehicles. Followed by models of the eye and heart. The other most memorable toy was a “microscope” that viewed 6 panel slides of microscopic organisms and cells. I now work in computer industry but grow orchids and read plant physiology for fun.

    I personally think its a matter of exposing kids to experiences that make them ask “How does this work?”

    Will have to ask mom what she was thinking! Thanks.

  20. Roger R

    While I was in elementary school I remember building models of the Mercury, Gemini & Apollo spacecraft with their launch vehicles. Followed by models of the eye and heart. The other most memorable toy was a “microscope” that viewed 6 panel slides of microscopic organisms and cells. I now work in computer industry but grow orchids and read plant physiology for fun.

    I personally think its a matter of exposing kids to experiences that make them ask “How does this work?”

    Will have to ask mom what she was thinking! Thanks.

  21. Kari’s remark, “I like to teach science to kids like I teach art. Get their hands dirty. Engage their natural curiosity.” parallels the contents of a book I would highly recommend everyone read. The title, “A Whole New Mind,” by Daniel Pink takes on what he refers to as the dominance of “left brain” thinking in favor of “right brain” thinking regardless if it involves education or business. He touts the MFA as the new MBA. Kari, as all Mythbuster fans know, has a BFA from San Francisco State and fits hand in glove to Pink’s thesis.

  22. Kari’s remark, “I like to teach science to kids like I teach art. Get their hands dirty. Engage their natural curiosity.” parallels the contents of a book I would highly recommend everyone read. The title, “A Whole New Mind,” by Daniel Pink takes on what he refers to as the dominance of “left brain” thinking in favor of “right brain” thinking regardless if it involves education or business. He touts the MFA as the new MBA. Kari, as all Mythbuster fans know, has a BFA from San Francisco State and fits hand in glove to Pink’s thesis.

  23. A different Paul

    I entirely agree. I have three kids and they all (thankfully) have an interest in science. From the start I showed them that Science is how you figure things out not a “thing” in its own right. It’s how they can figure out what will happen before it does. they seem to really like that idea.
    Similarly, I like to introduce math as a language not as a bunch of exercises. It’s a way to describe things and events just like english except it uses numbers instead of words. My daughters love math now, we work through the work sheets but they see it more like talking about things than just doing exercises. My daughters are 8 and 6 years old and my son is 6 as well. they all are hugely curious and I am so proud of them.
    Thank you Kari (and your other cohorts at Mythbusters), you have provided a wonderful opportunity for me to teach my kids science.

  24. A different Paul

    I entirely agree. I have three kids and they all (thankfully) have an interest in science. From the start I showed them that Science is how you figure things out not a “thing” in its own right. It’s how they can figure out what will happen before it does. they seem to really like that idea.
    Similarly, I like to introduce math as a language not as a bunch of exercises. It’s a way to describe things and events just like english except it uses numbers instead of words. My daughters love math now, we work through the work sheets but they see it more like talking about things than just doing exercises. My daughters are 8 and 6 years old and my son is 6 as well. they all are hugely curious and I am so proud of them.
    Thank you Kari (and your other cohorts at Mythbusters), you have provided a wonderful opportunity for me to teach my kids science.

  25. More education = More interest to the world we live inn.

    (Sorry for my english, I live in Norway.)

  26. More education = More interest to the world we live inn.

    (Sorry for my english, I live in Norway.)

  27. Adam Dunn

    The Earth and Space Science Laboratory is a GREAT place for kids (and parents) to learn about subjects like meteorology, life science, geology, and oceanography. Being an intern there (and a senior in high school) really opens my eyes to see that all the subjects, including bio, chemistry, physics, ect. go hand in hand, and have everything to do with each other. Giving kids the opportunity to explore the wonders of science and how they intertwine is a great feeling.

    Frederick, MD

  28. Adam Dunn

    The Earth and Space Science Laboratory is a GREAT place for kids (and parents) to learn about subjects like meteorology, life science, geology, and oceanography. Being an intern there (and a senior in high school) really opens my eyes to see that all the subjects, including bio, chemistry, physics, ect. go hand in hand, and have everything to do with each other. Giving kids the opportunity to explore the wonders of science and how they intertwine is a great feeling.

    Frederick, MD

  29. Sara the science teacher

    As an elementary science teacher, I struggle with this topic every day! Those are some great ideas, and I’ve found that kids do way more science in a day than they even realize. Taking time to point out the science in everyday activities is a fantastic way to get kids to understand how our world works.
    I have set curriculum objectives that I am expected to teach, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to find the most creative, interactive, FUN ways to do so. I’ve even used Mythbusters video clips in my classroom (Holiday Rube Goldberg machine is a big hit when we study motion and design!).

  30. Sara the science teacher

    As an elementary science teacher, I struggle with this topic every day! Those are some great ideas, and I’ve found that kids do way more science in a day than they even realize. Taking time to point out the science in everyday activities is a fantastic way to get kids to understand how our world works.
    I have set curriculum objectives that I am expected to teach, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to find the most creative, interactive, FUN ways to do so. I’ve even used Mythbusters video clips in my classroom (Holiday Rube Goldberg machine is a big hit when we study motion and design!).

  31. I was a weird breed in college – I was a English/Broadcasting major with a biology minor. What can I say? I love them both. I agree with Kari in the key to making science more fun is to get hands on with it. Using cooking or simple experiments gets kids’ imaginations working and makes them retain much more of the information. I can still to this day remember some of the experiments I did as a child, starting with the baking soda volcano.

    Oh, and as a side note. I think the Mythbusters are doing an awesome job to making it cool to be a science “geek”. Kids want to grow up and be them. Grant and Tori are two of my “ideal” guys. (I have a crush on both ;D ) Kari is my idol (both for her fashion sense as well as her job). Adam and Jamie have become household names. And all of this while we are sitting down learning something new. Keep up the great work!!

  32. I was a weird breed in college – I was a English/Broadcasting major with a biology minor. What can I say? I love them both. I agree with Kari in the key to making science more fun is to get hands on with it. Using cooking or simple experiments gets kids’ imaginations working and makes them retain much more of the information. I can still to this day remember some of the experiments I did as a child, starting with the baking soda volcano.

    Oh, and as a side note. I think the Mythbusters are doing an awesome job to making it cool to be a science “geek”. Kids want to grow up and be them. Grant and Tori are two of my “ideal” guys. (I have a crush on both ;D ) Kari is my idol (both for her fashion sense as well as her job). Adam and Jamie have become household names. And all of this while we are sitting down learning something new. Keep up the great work!!

  33. OrchidGrowinMan

    Years ago, I hosted a “Science Party” for my eight-year-old daughter. Ten of her friends came over, and spent HOURS at it, skipped lunch (!) and some had to be dragged away.

    I had bought each of them a set of safety goggles, plastic droppers and a rack of 25 little plastic test-tubes to take home (surplus).

    The agenda was to gather flowers and such from the gardens and greenhouse (orchids too!) and smoosh them in a mortar and pestle with a bit of rubbing-alcohol (When I was a teenager, I experimented and found this to be the BEST solvent for this purpose). Then a dropper could suck-up the (usually) coloured solution to put a few drops into each of three tubes, adding acid to one, water to one, and alkali to the third.

    TBelow is the body of the original invite, but it is too complicated, and some surprizes came up, like the the prevalence of flavonoids that turn yellow with strong alkalis (so some samples go red-purple-blue-green with increasing pH) and the reason why when you wash your hands after handling tomato plants the soap turns yellow: you can easily collect lots of some weird pigment by stroking tomato stems with a cotton-ball, and it turns bright greenish-yellow in alkali (flavonoid?).

    Bring a lab coat or apron if you have one. We have safety goggles and equipment for everyone.

    [Note to parents: We’re going to test flowers from our garden for acid/base color indicators. The only chemicals will be household ammonia, vinegar, baking soda and rubbing alcohol, and we have plastic test tubes, droppers, etc. For a more thorough explanation, please don’t hesitate to contact George at the number above.] (Not a Birthday Party.)

    List of Materials:

    Safety Goggles Provided (A, S & S) # 20647 $2.25 ea.
    Test Tubes (at least five) Provided: Racks of 25 plastic ones. (A, S & S) # 29206 $1.75 ea.
    Test Tube Rack Provided (See Above)
    Mortar and Pestle Provided (A, S & S) # 88909 $13.95 ea.
    Droppers Provided (A, S & S) # 29631 $2.00/20.
    Acid Provided: distilled vinegar, lemon juice
    Alkali Provided: household ammonia, baking soda
    Solvent Provided: rubbing alcohol
    Apron or Lab Coat Recommended; bring if available.
    Pigmented plant parts Provided: flowers, berries, pods. Bring your own too!
    Foods to test Acidic foods like fruits, alkaline like soda- or shortbread or cake.
    Miscellaneous, if available and needed: Ph Meter, Litmus paper, Acid/base indicators, tincture of iodine

    Each participant will receive a rack of 25 plastic test tubes, safety goggles and a couple of droppers to take home. The items were obtained from American Science & Surplus at good prices:
    American Science & Surplus
    3605 Howard street,
    Skokie IL 60076
    (847) 982-0870
    http://www.sciplus.com/

    There are other experiments that can be done: baking soda combined with an acid makes bubbles (carbon dioxide), tincture of iodine from the medicine cabinet gives a black/blue colour on starch and can be used to detect starchy foods and where in a plant starch is stored.

    Next time: motors, generators, solar cells, batteries switches and lights.

    What Will We Do:
    1. We will do experiments to try to extract the colours from plant parts like flowers, leaves and fruits.
    2. We will then determine if these chemicals change colour when they are mixed with acids and alkalis. That is, are they acid/base indicators.
    3. Using any acid/base indicators we find, we will try to identify whether some foods are acidic or alkaline (basic).

    Procedures (The three experiments can be run concurrently):
    1. Wear safety goggles. An apron will protect your clothes, and would be necessary with more dangerous chemicals.
    Obtain a pigmented plant part, the darker the better. The dryer the better. If possible, cut away any uncoloured parts.
    Smoosh and Goosh it up in a mortar and pestle.
    Add a little rubbing alcohol and carefully grind it up some more.
    Pour, or use a dropper to remove the liquid to a test tube. Label the tube. What does it look like?
    Wash the mortar and pestle and repeat.
    2. Wear safety goggles. An apron will protect your clothes, and would be necessary with more dangerous chemicals.
    2.1. Put a few drops of the extracted pigment from experiment 1 into each of five test tubes.
    Put three drops of ammonia or baking soda solution in the left test tube. What happens?
    Put three drops of vinegar or lemon juice solution in the right test tube. What happens?
    Put one drop of ammonia or baking soda solution in the next to left test tube, and two drops of water. What happens?
    Put one drop of vinegar or lemon juice solution in the next to right test tube, and two drops of water. What happens?
    Put three drops of water in the center test tube. Compare the colours of each sample.
    2.2. Put a few drops of the extracted pigment from experiment 1, one that changes colours, into each of five test tubes.
    Put three drops of ammonia solution in the left one, three drops of baking soda solution in the next. What happens?
    Put three drops of vinegar in the right one and three of lemon juice solution in the next. What happens?
    Put three drops of water in the middle tube. Compare the colours.
    2.3. Using the results of the experiment above, if you add a drop of vinegar to the left (ammonia) tube and a drop of water to the middle one, and a drop of ammonia to the right (vinegar) tube, how many times do you have to repeat to get them the same colour?
    3. Wear safety goggles. An apron will protect your clothes, and would be necessary with more dangerous chemicals.
    Obtain a food (or other material) sample.
    Put a few drops of the extracted pigment from experiment 1, one that is shown to be an indicator, onto the sample. What happens. Is the sample acidic or alkaline?

    All samples and solutions to be disposed of in a bucket provided, for responsible disposal.

    Why Does That Happen?
    The pigments in plants fall into one of several chemical families. Blue, purple, pink, and most red colours are due to the presence of one or another of the anthocyanin pigments, which are acid/base indicators. [antho means “flower,” cyanin means “blue.”] Their molecular shape changes in response to acidity, and this changes their colour. Some blue flowers have the same anthocyanin pigment as some pink ones; the difference is in the acidity/alkalinity (pH) of the plant juice. Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, ammonia and baking soda alkaline. Float flowers in them and the flowers will likely change colour.
    Anthocyanins are soluble in water and alcohol and are easy to extract, They also are usually easily destroyed by heat (cooking). Beets and chard (and cacti) have pigments in a different group, betacyanins, which are more heat stable and are also (barely) indicators. [Beta means “beet.”]
    Yellow, orange and some red pigments (as in tomatoes) are due to carotenoid pigments, which are not acid/base indicators, and are not really soluble in water and sparingly in alcohol. [carota means “carrot”] Green chlorophyll and various brownish pigments may also be present.

  34. OrchidGrowinMan

    Years ago, I hosted a “Science Party” for my eight-year-old daughter. Ten of her friends came over, and spent HOURS at it, skipped lunch (!) and some had to be dragged away.

    I had bought each of them a set of safety goggles, plastic droppers and a rack of 25 little plastic test-tubes to take home (surplus).

    The agenda was to gather flowers and such from the gardens and greenhouse (orchids too!) and smoosh them in a mortar and pestle with a bit of rubbing-alcohol (When I was a teenager, I experimented and found this to be the BEST solvent for this purpose). Then a dropper could suck-up the (usually) coloured solution to put a few drops into each of three tubes, adding acid to one, water to one, and alkali to the third.

    TBelow is the body of the original invite, but it is too complicated, and some surprizes came up, like the the prevalence of flavonoids that turn yellow with strong alkalis (so some samples go red-purple-blue-green with increasing pH) and the reason why when you wash your hands after handling tomato plants the soap turns yellow: you can easily collect lots of some weird pigment by stroking tomato stems with a cotton-ball, and it turns bright greenish-yellow in alkali (flavonoid?).

    Bring a lab coat or apron if you have one. We have safety goggles and equipment for everyone.

    [Note to parents: We’re going to test flowers from our garden for acid/base color indicators. The only chemicals will be household ammonia, vinegar, baking soda and rubbing alcohol, and we have plastic test tubes, droppers, etc. For a more thorough explanation, please don’t hesitate to contact George at the number above.] (Not a Birthday Party.)

    List of Materials:

    Safety Goggles Provided (A, S & S) # 20647 $2.25 ea.
    Test Tubes (at least five) Provided: Racks of 25 plastic ones. (A, S & S) # 29206 $1.75 ea.
    Test Tube Rack Provided (See Above)
    Mortar and Pestle Provided (A, S & S) # 88909 $13.95 ea.
    Droppers Provided (A, S & S) # 29631 $2.00/20.
    Acid Provided: distilled vinegar, lemon juice
    Alkali Provided: household ammonia, baking soda
    Solvent Provided: rubbing alcohol
    Apron or Lab Coat Recommended; bring if available.
    Pigmented plant parts Provided: flowers, berries, pods. Bring your own too!
    Foods to test Acidic foods like fruits, alkaline like soda- or shortbread or cake.
    Miscellaneous, if available and needed: Ph Meter, Litmus paper, Acid/base indicators, tincture of iodine

    Each participant will receive a rack of 25 plastic test tubes, safety goggles and a couple of droppers to take home. The items were obtained from American Science & Surplus at good prices:
    American Science & Surplus
    3605 Howard street,
    Skokie IL 60076
    (847) 982-0870
    http://www.sciplus.com/

    There are other experiments that can be done: baking soda combined with an acid makes bubbles (carbon dioxide), tincture of iodine from the medicine cabinet gives a black/blue colour on starch and can be used to detect starchy foods and where in a plant starch is stored.

    Next time: motors, generators, solar cells, batteries switches and lights.

    What Will We Do:
    1. We will do experiments to try to extract the colours from plant parts like flowers, leaves and fruits.
    2. We will then determine if these chemicals change colour when they are mixed with acids and alkalis. That is, are they acid/base indicators.
    3. Using any acid/base indicators we find, we will try to identify whether some foods are acidic or alkaline (basic).

    Procedures (The three experiments can be run concurrently):
    1. Wear safety goggles. An apron will protect your clothes, and would be necessary with more dangerous chemicals.
    Obtain a pigmented plant part, the darker the better. The dryer the better. If possible, cut away any uncoloured parts.
    Smoosh and Goosh it up in a mortar and pestle.
    Add a little rubbing alcohol and carefully grind it up some more.
    Pour, or use a dropper to remove the liquid to a test tube. Label the tube. What does it look like?
    Wash the mortar and pestle and repeat.
    2. Wear safety goggles. An apron will protect your clothes, and would be necessary with more dangerous chemicals.
    2.1. Put a few drops of the extracted pigment from experiment 1 into each of five test tubes.
    Put three drops of ammonia or baking soda solution in the left test tube. What happens?
    Put three drops of vinegar or lemon juice solution in the right test tube. What happens?
    Put one drop of ammonia or baking soda solution in the next to left test tube, and two drops of water. What happens?
    Put one drop of vinegar or lemon juice solution in the next to right test tube, and two drops of water. What happens?
    Put three drops of water in the center test tube. Compare the colours of each sample.
    2.2. Put a few drops of the extracted pigment from experiment 1, one that changes colours, into each of five test tubes.
    Put three drops of ammonia solution in the left one, three drops of baking soda solution in the next. What happens?
    Put three drops of vinegar in the right one and three of lemon juice solution in the next. What happens?
    Put three drops of water in the middle tube. Compare the colours.
    2.3. Using the results of the experiment above, if you add a drop of vinegar to the left (ammonia) tube and a drop of water to the middle one, and a drop of ammonia to the right (vinegar) tube, how many times do you have to repeat to get them the same colour?
    3. Wear safety goggles. An apron will protect your clothes, and would be necessary with more dangerous chemicals.
    Obtain a food (or other material) sample.
    Put a few drops of the extracted pigment from experiment 1, one that is shown to be an indicator, onto the sample. What happens. Is the sample acidic or alkaline?

    All samples and solutions to be disposed of in a bucket provided, for responsible disposal.

    Why Does That Happen?
    The pigments in plants fall into one of several chemical families. Blue, purple, pink, and most red colours are due to the presence of one or another of the anthocyanin pigments, which are acid/base indicators. [antho means “flower,” cyanin means “blue.”] Their molecular shape changes in response to acidity, and this changes their colour. Some blue flowers have the same anthocyanin pigment as some pink ones; the difference is in the acidity/alkalinity (pH) of the plant juice. Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, ammonia and baking soda alkaline. Float flowers in them and the flowers will likely change colour.
    Anthocyanins are soluble in water and alcohol and are easy to extract, They also are usually easily destroyed by heat (cooking). Beets and chard (and cacti) have pigments in a different group, betacyanins, which are more heat stable and are also (barely) indicators. [Beta means “beet.”]
    Yellow, orange and some red pigments (as in tomatoes) are due to carotenoid pigments, which are not acid/base indicators, and are not really soluble in water and sparingly in alcohol. [carota means “carrot”] Green chlorophyll and various brownish pigments may also be present.

  35. thanks kari and say thanks to the guys ive been hooked on mythbusters since the beginning and i can telll u that my daughters are now 11 and 13 even they are hooked my daughters onlly speech french (my faullt )but even in the french translation my daughters have learned more in one year of mythbusters and head rush (congrats on that)than in there 7 years of school i hope they will one day put science in school the way u guys do it im sure % would sky rocket keep up hte great work and keep it real thanks 4 the mmrs

  36. thanks kari and say thanks to the guys ive been hooked on mythbusters since the beginning and i can telll u that my daughters are now 11 and 13 even they are hooked my daughters onlly speech french (my faullt )but even in the french translation my daughters have learned more in one year of mythbusters and head rush (congrats on that)than in there 7 years of school i hope they will one day put science in school the way u guys do it im sure % would sky rocket keep up hte great work and keep it real thanks 4 the mmrs

  37. The problem with all those ‘lists of facts’ is that while seemingly a bit dull in themselves (unless you’re someone who likes that sort of thing!) it is necessary to actually learn some facts in order to do the more interesting science.

    It’s a lot more fun when you get to the stage of being able to have ideas and question things and propose hypotheses of your own, to design and do experiements of your own, to be creative and imaginative and break new ground in finding things out – but, it would be very difficult to do that without having a lot of the background facts and knowledge at your fingertips. No need to memorise absolutely everything (don’t get people who memorise the periodic table or 100 digits of pi or whatever) but you do need to have some facts in your head. Unfortunately the only way to get it in there is to knuckle down to some dull old-fashioned reading, listening and learning.

    I guess the same way as having fun and being creative with music often requires the boring work of learning to read music, mastering the basic skills of playing your instrument, doing lots of practice…

    Neither argument is particularly easy to convice most kids of though!

    • Winnie

      Now as a Ph.D. in science, and with a daughter getting her Ph.D. in science (defense in the spring), I’ve been there teaching my kid that science can be fun, dirty, yucky, COOL, wild, stinky, boring, sweet, frustrating, and life. Of course depending on what you do, it might be super clean, very particular, teeny tiny or enormous — all depends on what you study.

      We’ve shared this with other families through volunteer efforts with the elementary school, and with nature centers (I did more ecological stuff and geology – you can do modeled mountain building with play dough for folded mountains, wood blocks for faulted mountains, and best of all ice cream with the chocolate syrup that turns crunchy for erosional mountains! )

      Hey all things can be done with some fun and creativity – both by youngsters and adults!

    • True, you need the facts! But are there more ways to integrate learning the facts with DOING?

      When I taught kids to ride, there were many facts they needed to know; these were integrated into the physical lesson of catching, grooming, tacking, riding and controlling the horse. For instance: you have to know to put your left foot in the stirrup first. Instead of memorizing this, we just get on (with direction), they can see if they do it the other way they will end up sitting backwards!

      Or the basics of color mixing taught as you are making a mess with watercolors! (go ahead, experiement…oooooh, I see you have mixed all of them…that’s called mud!).

      In an aquatics program in the York County Park system, there is a classroom segment; blah blah, pictures of bugs, who they are, what they eat etc. It is kept short, interactive (“If we were to build a stream right here, what would we need?”). Then we go outside and wade in a 60 degree stream turning over rocks, looking for slithery things. Yeah. That’s cool.

      For another aquatics program at a local farm, I have them remember the difference between dragonflies and damselflies with “dragonfly yoga”… standing on one leg with arms outstretched is dragonfly (they sit with wings outstretched… hands clasped behind back is damselfly (they sit with wings folded). Physical memory.

  38. The problem with all those ‘lists of facts’ is that while seemingly a bit dull in themselves (unless you’re someone who likes that sort of thing!) it is necessary to actually learn some facts in order to do the more interesting science.

    It’s a lot more fun when you get to the stage of being able to have ideas and question things and propose hypotheses of your own, to design and do experiements of your own, to be creative and imaginative and break new ground in finding things out – but, it would be very difficult to do that without having a lot of the background facts and knowledge at your fingertips. No need to memorise absolutely everything (don’t get people who memorise the periodic table or 100 digits of pi or whatever) but you do need to have some facts in your head. Unfortunately the only way to get it in there is to knuckle down to some dull old-fashioned reading, listening and learning.

    I guess the same way as having fun and being creative with music often requires the boring work of learning to read music, mastering the basic skills of playing your instrument, doing lots of practice…

    Neither argument is particularly easy to convice most kids of though!

    • Winnie

      Now as a Ph.D. in science, and with a daughter getting her Ph.D. in science (defense in the spring), I’ve been there teaching my kid that science can be fun, dirty, yucky, COOL, wild, stinky, boring, sweet, frustrating, and life. Of course depending on what you do, it might be super clean, very particular, teeny tiny or enormous — all depends on what you study.

      We’ve shared this with other families through volunteer efforts with the elementary school, and with nature centers (I did more ecological stuff and geology – you can do modeled mountain building with play dough for folded mountains, wood blocks for faulted mountains, and best of all ice cream with the chocolate syrup that turns crunchy for erosional mountains! )

      Hey all things can be done with some fun and creativity – both by youngsters and adults!

    • True, you need the facts! But are there more ways to integrate learning the facts with DOING?

      When I taught kids to ride, there were many facts they needed to know; these were integrated into the physical lesson of catching, grooming, tacking, riding and controlling the horse. For instance: you have to know to put your left foot in the stirrup first. Instead of memorizing this, we just get on (with direction), they can see if they do it the other way they will end up sitting backwards!

      Or the basics of color mixing taught as you are making a mess with watercolors! (go ahead, experiement…oooooh, I see you have mixed all of them…that’s called mud!).

      In an aquatics program in the York County Park system, there is a classroom segment; blah blah, pictures of bugs, who they are, what they eat etc. It is kept short, interactive (“If we were to build a stream right here, what would we need?”). Then we go outside and wade in a 60 degree stream turning over rocks, looking for slithery things. Yeah. That’s cool.

      For another aquatics program at a local farm, I have them remember the difference between dragonflies and damselflies with “dragonfly yoga”… standing on one leg with arms outstretched is dragonfly (they sit with wings outstretched… hands clasped behind back is damselfly (they sit with wings folded). Physical memory.

  39. David Stuart

    Kari-
    I’m sure this is an odd question, and if it’s been answered somewhere along the way, forgive…

    I’m curious if you named Stella Ruby after Stella and Ruby Harvey?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Harvey_%28musician%29

    We had twin girls a little over a year ago, “Stella” and “Ruby” were front runners for their names, but family names won out….

    just curious…

    Dave Stuart

  40. David Stuart

    Kari-
    I’m sure this is an odd question, and if it’s been answered somewhere along the way, forgive…

    I’m curious if you named Stella Ruby after Stella and Ruby Harvey?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryan_Harvey_%28musician%29

    We had twin girls a little over a year ago, “Stella” and “Ruby” were front runners for their names, but family names won out….

    just curious…

    Dave Stuart

  41. Hannah

    I have always loved science.
    It really is in almost everything in the world, or at least it connects to it in some way.
    You just have to show kids the parts of it that appeal to them, and then they’re interested.
    A staple is watching things explode; if you don’t have access to very many chemicals, mentos and coke are always a good standby.
    Using dry ice for various experiments is awesome too, like the screaming quarters.
    Or you could just stick a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

  42. Hannah

    I have always loved science.
    It really is in almost everything in the world, or at least it connects to it in some way.
    You just have to show kids the parts of it that appeal to them, and then they’re interested.
    A staple is watching things explode; if you don’t have access to very many chemicals, mentos and coke are always a good standby.
    Using dry ice for various experiments is awesome too, like the screaming quarters.
    Or you could just stick a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.

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  44. I thought it was going To be some boring old post, but it okay compensated as my time. I went post a link how to this url by my site. I am sure my visitors will think of that very useful

  45. […] education. She’s not only a mythbuster, but also the face of Head Rush on the Science Channel. In this GeekMom article she talks about teaching science the way you teach art, but getting kids involved and getting their […]

  46. […] education. She’s not only a mythbuster, but also the face of Head Rush on the Science Channel. In this GeekMom article she talks about teaching science the way you teach art, but getting kids involved and getting their […]

  47. We think all the attention around The governators kid lately is insane. Just leave the kid alone..maybe The Governator needs to answer questions, but leave the poor kid alone.

  48. We think all the attention around The governators kid lately is insane. Just leave the kid alone..maybe The Governator needs to answer questions, but leave the poor kid alone.

  49. Getting more kids – especially more women – interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields is so important for our country. After all, women are 52% of the population – we need more children – and more women – pursuing STEM degree. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing not only Kari Byron for my education blog (OneDublin.org) but also the president of Harvey Mudd (Dr. Maria Klawe), Social Roboticist Heather Knight and Google Product Manager Johanna Wright. For parents interested in how to get their daughters interested in STEM fields, the Dr. Klawe interview is a good place to start: http://onedublin.org/2011/09/10/harvey-mudd-college-president-maria-klawe-on-women-in-science-math-and-engineering/. And to Ms. Byron – keep doing what you are doing – it’s making a difference!

  50. Getting more kids – especially more women – interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields is so important for our country. After all, women are 52% of the population – we need more children – and more women – pursuing STEM degree. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing not only Kari Byron for my education blog (OneDublin.org) but also the president of Harvey Mudd (Dr. Maria Klawe), Social Roboticist Heather Knight and Google Product Manager Johanna Wright. For parents interested in how to get their daughters interested in STEM fields, the Dr. Klawe interview is a good place to start: http://onedublin.org/2011/09/10/harvey-mudd-college-president-maria-klawe-on-women-in-science-math-and-engineering/. And to Ms. Byron – keep doing what you are doing – it’s making a difference!

  51. WOW! You rock! I was a girl in the 50’s/60’s, and our role models were Barbie and June Cleaver. Bleah. So not me. I had two great things: unstructured play time in the natural world (read Last Child in the Woods: Richard Louv) and books. I read about Madame Curie. About the discovery of the coelocanth (I still can’t spell it). About the adventures of Jaques Cousteau. On Star Trek, I saw that science was cool (now I’m using automatic sliding doors, touch screen computers and….hey, why won’t my communicator beam me up???).

    I am primarily an artist/storyteller who loves educating people, especially kids. We need science teachers, bio teachers, to make the subjects exciting, to engage curiosity. We need local parks and .orgs involving kids in programs which excite them about their world (some of the best educational programs I’ve seen have been in parks and non-profts). We need artists, writers, movie makers to create stories which make kids go out and explore. We need TV to move the lens from the glamour and fake draaaaamaaaaah to science, history and the natural world…it’s doing so, slowly, but I think we’re making progress.

  52. WOW! You rock! I was a girl in the 50’s/60’s, and our role models were Barbie and June Cleaver. Bleah. So not me. I had two great things: unstructured play time in the natural world (read Last Child in the Woods: Richard Louv) and books. I read about Madame Curie. About the discovery of the coelocanth (I still can’t spell it). About the adventures of Jaques Cousteau. On Star Trek, I saw that science was cool (now I’m using automatic sliding doors, touch screen computers and….hey, why won’t my communicator beam me up???).

    I am primarily an artist/storyteller who loves educating people, especially kids. We need science teachers, bio teachers, to make the subjects exciting, to engage curiosity. We need local parks and .orgs involving kids in programs which excite them about their world (some of the best educational programs I’ve seen have been in parks and non-profts). We need artists, writers, movie makers to create stories which make kids go out and explore. We need TV to move the lens from the glamour and fake draaaaamaaaaah to science, history and the natural world…it’s doing so, slowly, but I think we’re making progress.

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