Real Life Chemistry

Note to Teachers: This project or activity can be used occasionally, regularly or just once. There are a large number of books available filled with science experiments meant to be done by kids at home. I plan to use these as raw material. In addition, there are a number of great web sites with good activities as well. Here are a few:
Home Experiments on from Bassam Z. Shakhashiri:
Science Explorer from the Exploratorium
Science for Kids from the American Chemical Society
Inquiry in Action book from the American Chemical Society
Science Fair Ideas from ipl2
Bring Science Home from Scientific American (if the link doesn’t work then try searching for ‘Science Buddies’ on the Scientific American site)
Home Science Experiemnts


Chemistry classes teach abstract ideas about atoms and molecules. These ideas are often difficult to apply to everyday life. It can be hard to see how what you learn in Chemistry is in any way relevant to your life. The fact is that Chemistry is all around you and understanding it can enrich your daily experience immensely. From food and cooking, to cleaning, to the clothes you wear and the medicines you use to keep you healthy Chemistry is involved in literally every part of your life.

For your sixth experiment you will explore the properties of Ivory Soap. In this experiment you will compare the density of Ivory soap to another brand. You will also do an experiment involving the expansion of a gas when it is heated. You can find the experiment at this link: or try this short-cut:

Also for this activity go to the PhET site and download and run the Microwaves simulation. You can find it here: Answer the following questions by playing with the simulator as a part of your report:

  1. Use the “One Molecule” tab to find out how microwave radiation (an electromagnetic wave with a wavelength longer than infrared but shorter than radio waves) affects the motion of a single molecule of water. Describe what happens to the molecule when the microwave turns on.
  2. Use the “Single Line of Molecules” tab to find out how microwave radiation heats up water. When molecules speed up we measure that as an increase in temperature. Just how does the microwave radiation heat up the water molecules? (Hint: Does one molecule get hotter when you microwave it?)
  3. Molecules other than water also can begin to rotate faster when microwave radiation passes through them. Soap molecules are among those that do this. Other molecules, such as those that make up the air, are not affected by microwaves. How does microwaving the soap heat up the air bubbles inside it when the air itself cannot be heated with microwaves?


Limit the experiment you do to the one described on the hand-out or web site unless you discuss your plans in detail with your teacher first.

Experiments may be extended but if the extensions may involve additional safety risks they must be pre-approved by your teacher. You are encouraged to extend the experiments.

Above all: safety first. Follow proper safety procedures at all times. If you need safety glasses you may sign out a pair from the classroom.

The Report

Type a one-page paper which answers the following questions in a numbered-response format. Write no more than one solid paragraph in response to each one. You will be graded based on how clearly you demonstrated significant care in carrying out the experiment and how deeply you have thought about what it means.

  1. Describe what you did step by step.
  2. Either in school or at home, have you ever observed anything like this experiment before? If so, describe the similarities and differences.
  3. What were you supposed to learn about by doing this experiment? What did the authors of the activity intend you to learn?
  4. In your chemistry class you often talk about physical and chemical changes by considering both the macroscopic event (that you see with your eyes) and the molecular-level events that explain it. Think about this experiment on the molecular level and explain what you observed by discussing events that were happening to the atoms and molecules involved. Do some research in the library and/or on the Web to inform your answer to this question.
  5. Add one or more photos of your work.
  6. Add an original illustration (not an image found on the internet) of what is happening at the molecular level which explains what you observe in the experiment. Use your imagination, so some research, and do not be concerned too much about being 100% accurate. Cartoonish drawings are acceptable--try to do them in the style of the Modeling the Molecular Level activity you did in class.
  7. How well did this experiment work? Is there anything that should be added to the author’s instructions that would make it work better?
  8. What made this experiment fun? Of if you didn’t enjoy it, why not?

A Bibliography is required. Further research will be required for you to fully understand and explain the phenomena you explore in your experiment. Record your sources in standard format.

A Few Tips

Here are the projects we are doing during the 2012 - 2013 school year:

Dancing Raisins
Red Cabbage Acid/Base Indicator
Alien Egg
Borax Ornaments
    See also and (a doc file)
Rust and Oxygen in the Air
Here are the projects we are doing during the 2013 - 2014 school year:

Candy Chromatography
Plastic Milk
Steamy Science
Borax Ornaments
    See also and (a doc file)
Making Marshmallows
Microwaving Ivory Soap
Here are the projects we are doing during the 2014 - 2015 school year:

Candy Chromatography
Plastic Milk
Borax Ornaments
    See also and (a doc file)

Making Marshmallows
Salt Crystals at Home (no link)
Microwaving Ivory Soap
Note for teachers: After students do the experiment at home and write their reports, do the experiment in class and discuss it with them. A good time to do this may be on the due date of the report. This gives you a chance to hear from students verbally about how it went and to discuss what it was you wanted them to learn from it.
Last updated: May 18, 2015       Home