University of York- Science Outreach program

New year, new experiences.

We kicked off our 2011 portion of the school year with a great initiative organized by my friend Amy along with students of the University of York.

Currently there is much interest in making Science accessible to children everywhere, and according to what I’ve heard from other homeschooling moms with older children, particularly to girls. There is a desire to break with the notion that Science is a man thing. Surely it is presently a man-dominated topic, but this is bound to change as we progressively seek equal encouragement for girls as we do for boys.

After all, why not?

And to set example, we received a visit from a group of wonderful girls, students of the University of York and volunteers in the Science Outreach program.

These girls drove for over an hour in very slippery, wintery conditions to see us, with no other benefit to them other than knowing that they shared their love of science with a group of excited children.

Since our homeschool group is very heterogeneous and we have a few of every age, the kids were split into three groups depending on their grade.

The first table consisted of the youngest, up to third grade. As an experiment they made their own Oobleck, a silly putty concoction– a very messy one, which obviously made it an instant hit.

Another tabled homed the oldest kids, those twelve years old and above. They did some seriously cool CSI and forensic science stuff, even learning how to lift fingerprints.

Anna’s table learned about acids and bases and the differences between one and other.

They listened as the volunteer explained the pH scale, their distinctive tastes (sour for acids and bitter for bases), and how mixing acids and bases will cancel each other out then becoming a neutral.

She did several demonstrations in test tubes that allowed the children to see the colors of the substance change. Also, she made a lot of emphasis on safety, reminding the kids to always ask for an adult to help and to never put substances in their mouth if they’re not certain it is harmless.

Then it was time for them to experiment. The challenge: to create a secret message with invisible ink.

First, they received a piece of paper, a brush, and a choice between lemon juice and water/baking soda mix.

The reason they were given a choice was because lemon juice is an acid, and baking soda with water is a base; this would allow them to reveal their message in different colors depending on what they chose.

They soaked the brush in the solution (Anna went for lemon juice) and used it for writing or drawing on their paper, allowing it time to dry. The volunteer had a hair dryer to make the process faster.

When the ‘invisible ink’ was completely dry, they sprayed their sheet of paper with red cabbage juice. The cabbage juice reacted with the lemon juice because of its acidity, changing color into bright pink words.

For a more detailed explanation of the experiment and why cabbage juice is used, click here.

Here is Anna’s secret message:

For those of you who have trouble understanding ancient hieroglyphics, that reads Hi Phoebe, I miss you!

Phoebe is Anna’s good friend that she doesn’t get to see very often.

Girly bear hugs ensued.


Thanks to Amy for organizing this, to York University for encouraging its students initiatives, and most of all to the great group of volunteers that are tireless at making science fun. You rock!


About Caro

Writing about my life according to me. Quite convenient because you can't prove me wrong.
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