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Explorit Science Center: Defying gravity with water

By From page A5 | May 30, 2014

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UC Davis chemistry professor Frank Osterloh dazzles a crowd at Explorit Science Center during last year's Final Blast Festival and Chemistry Show. Providing support is Analiese Franz, also a UCD chemistry professor. Save the date for this year's blow-out: Sunday, Sept. 7. Courtesy photo

Water is a pretty amazing substance. It freezes. It evaporates. And we can’t live without it. But can water defy gravity? Try this experiment and see what you can discover.

You will need: two glasses, a paper towel, some water, a ruler or measuring tape and a little patience. You can also add other materials to test like a paper napkin, a cloth rag, a coffee filter or a sheet of paper.

Start by adding some water to one of the glasses. It doesn’t matter how much, but you can use your ruler or measuring tape to record how many inches of water you have in your glass. Keep the other glass empty.

Now twist or fold the paper towel until it’s scrunched up tight and looks like a piece of rope. Put one end of the paper towel into the water glass so that it’s down in the water, then drape the other end of the paper towel into the empty glass.

Watch and see what happens. Here’s the part where you need your patience. This experiment takes a little while to show results. But you’re probably noticing right away that your paper towel is getting wet and that the water is moving up the paper towel away from the surface of the water.

This process is called capillary action. The water is moving through the tiny open spaces or air pockets in the paper towel because it sticks to the paper towel fibers better than the individual water molecules stick to each other.

This is like what happens in plants. The plant’s roots find water in the ground and use capillary action to move that water up through the stem and out to the leaves and all other parts of the plant. Capillary action moves water upward, defying gravity!

After a few minutes, take another look at your experiment. Is the whole paper towel wet? Use your ruler or measuring tape to measure the water level in the water glass. Is it the same as it was before you put in the paper towel? Why?

Now check your empty glass. Is it still empty? Why? What happened?

Or try repeating this experiment, but replace the paper towel with a paper napkin, cloth rag or one of the other suggestions above. Do you get the same results? Why? Which material is the best at carrying water? Which is the worst?

This experiment is just one way to have some wet science fun this summer. Check out Explorit’s Summer Science Camps for more.

Explorit’s coming events:

* Explorit’s “Beautiful World: Science and Art” exhibition is open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. and every Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. Admission is $5 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.
* Interested in membership? Think your Explorit membership may have lapsed? Call 530-756-0191 to check or sign up.

Summer Science Camp registration is open now. Visit www.explorit.org for all the details or to register.
* Don’t miss Explorit’s summer field trip to the Discovery Museum’s Challenger Center on Aug. 6 for fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students. Search “Explorit” on brownpapertickets.com.
* Save the date: On Sunday, Sept. 7, Explorit will host a Final Blast Festival and Chemistry Show to celebrate the end of the Summer Science Camp season and start the new school year.

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

Lisa Justice

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