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Explorit: Candy science with Halloween leftovers

By From page A5 | November 01, 2013

Many of us are probably ringing in November with an excess of leftover Halloween candy on our hands. While eating it all may sound like fun, it’s probably not the best choice for our health or our teeth.

So why not put it to good use and experience a little science at the same time? Here are a few candy experiments you might try with those leftovers.

Gummy bears or other shapes can become the building blocks for a sweet mosaic. Arrange your gummies in your desired design on a microwave-safe plate and heat on high at 30-second intervals until all the gummies melt and fuse together. What you’ll see has a stained glass effect.

Skittles, M&Ms and other solid colored candies also can be used for art. Separate the candies by color and soak them in cups of water; all the greens in a cup together, all the reds in a cup together and so on. The colored candy shells will bleed and stain the water, then you can use the colored water to paint like watercolors. Be sure to watch what happens to the printed letters while the candies soak in the water.

Or for a different technique, dip a piece of candy in the water and then place it where you want it on your paper. Coffee filters do a great job of absorbing the colored water, but you can try other types of paper as well. Which technique works best?

Marshmallow candies are fun to observe in the microwave. Place a marshmallow treat on a microwave-safe plate and heat it for about 20 seconds. What do you see happening?

Heat makes molecules move faster so as your marshmallow gets hotter, its molecules are moving more and bumping into each other. How can that help you explain what you’re seeing? Also, try facing two marshmallows at each other and give each one a toothpick sword. As they heat up, which one stabs the other one first?

If you have a wintergreen candy, you can try lighting up the night with this tasty experiment. Stand in front of a mirror in a dark room. A bathroom with all the lights turned off works great.

Put the wintergreen candy in your mouth and bite down hard. Watch carefully what’s happening between your teeth. See those sparks? You are releasing electricity in your mouth with each bite!

What’s happening is called triboluminescence. It happens when atoms get crushed or smashed very quickly, like what your teeth are doing to the crystalline sugars in the candy. The electrons that were part of those atoms fly out and bump into nitrogen in the air. That makes the nitrogen give off a little bit of light.

Try this experiment with other hard sugary candies. Do they all give off light? Why or why not? Which one sparks the most?

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Explorit’s coming events

* Bonsai workshop back by popular demand: Buy your tickets now for the beginner bonsai workshop at 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 10. Tickets are $30 per person and includes a tree, materials and refreshments. Due to the popularity of this program, pre-purchase of tickets is required. You can purchase tickets at www.explorit.org/csp/bonsai.

— Explorit Science Center is at 3141 Fifth St. For more information, call 530-756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” Explorit on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

Lisa Justice

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