a place for the curious

Tag: bucket science

Staying blue

two types of cyanotype images on paper - one pale, washed out blue, the other a vibrant cyan blue

feeling a little blue

A bit of backyard science

A few weeks ago I was experimenting with a different sort of cyanotype – a digital image of an underground tunnel, printed on a clear transparency. I had captured the slow steps of someone moving through the low, dark space. I’d hoped to use it in a group ‘thing’. Unfortunately, it failed terribly. That is to say, the chemicals failed.

I’m used to photos not successfully translating to cyanotype, but this image seemed to have the right stuff. After waiting through a week of rain and sunless sky, I was at last able to set up. I painted my paper, watched for a longish moment of late-winter sunlight and exposed the cyanotype in the usual way. A raindrop or two got caught with the sun, but as it’s a ghostly and indistinct image, I figured it would be okay. It looked beautiful. I rinsed the paper and let the chemicals wash away… and with horror watched the lovely blue image wash away too. I had managed to produce a damp, wrinkled, blank piece of paper.

A couple of weeks later, when the sun reappeared, I tried again in the somewhat futile hope that I’d mixed the solutions incorrectly. But, no. That image washed away, even after a 40 minute exposure – longer than needed in Australia at that time of year. There was no more than a hint of an image.

It turns out that the unmixed liquid cyanotype solutions have an end shelf-life. The best information I could find was ‘it should last a few months’. I did my googling, as any good internet citizen would, but couldn’t spot anything more definitive.

In case you’re one of the few who want to know, I’d kept the two solutions in separate bottles in a dark cupboard for about six months. One week they were working pretty well. A few weeks later, not so much. Obviously, I’ve had to discard the solutions. New chemicals have been ordered and I await their blue-toned arrival.

Next time I prepare the solutions, I’ll put a date on the bottles and track what happens. I’ll do one test strip a month, and keep a record of the date and changing sunlight. I’m sure can get a better idea than ‘a few months’. Data, baby. That’s what I want. Data. Failure is okay, so long as you learn from it and try again.

And that, my friends, is my little bit of backyard science. Science in the sun. Cool, huh?

A bucket full of science

photo of a scientific experiment, showing the bubbles forming in a cup of oil and other ingredients

Froody Science

I’ve been to some beautiful and thought-provoking events at the RiAus over the years.

As a volunteer, I also get a little bit of extra behind-the-scenes training. Usually the training is more about the how-to of events or bigger concepts, such as evidence-based medicine.

All very grown-up and helpful. However, last week saw us get our hands dirty. With a bit of bucket science.

Bucket science is slang for scientific experiments you can do in the comfort of your own home. In fact, most of the ingredients for the experiments can be found in the kitchen. I know that you’re ahead of me on this one: it is also known as kitchen science.

I’m guessing that the phrase bucket science is a local one as, while quite a few of us at the training session knew the term, Wikipedia has no article for it. (Yes, budding wikipedians, here is your opportunity to start a new article.)

But were there any actual buckets? Most certainly! And it was full of slime. Of course, this particular cornflour slime was there to show a little chemistry in action, specifically non-Newtonian fluids.

In addition to buckets, there were lava lamps, condiment / Cartesian divers, and secret bells. On the night, the Cartesian diver got the most scientific discussion going and, for me, has sent me off to find out some science history about Cartesian divers.

And, as always, that’s the trick. To get people interested in the world around them, to get them asking questions. They might accidentally learn a thing or two.

Coathangers for ears?

a woman (mostly her hair) bending over, fingers in ears, has two coathangers attached by string to her fingers

Coathanger Girl

So, what was the most fun? That is just too hard to say. The experiment that surprised me the most was without question the Secret bell: coathanger ears.

I won’t try and attempt to explain this for you. The mere act of explaining might ruin the scientific discovery you are about to experience. That’s because – in the true spirit of bucket science – you need to try it for yourself.

You can see me trying it out in the image to the right. As silly as I look… Ah, just go try it out.

If you want to find out the how-to without any spoilers, I would recommend the youtube clip by Science Off Center. Go on. Stop reading. Start doing.

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