Easy Milk Experiment • Learn About Molecules With Tie-Dye Milk

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Learn about molecules and more with this easy tie-dye milk experiment

Make a rainbow of colors swirl around with materials you can find in your kitchen and a dash of science!

Atoms and molecules are the particles that make up everything. What element or elements they are, how they’re arranged, how they move, and how they interact with each other determines how a substance looks, acts, and reacts. However, atoms and molecules are very, very small. You could line up 70 million helium atoms in a row across a pencil eraser!

This makes them way too small to see with our own eyes or even with many microscopes. But we can observe molecules in motion with this tie-dye milk experiment.

Ready to make your own? Watch along or follow the written steps below!

Materials you will need:

  • Milk or cream
  • Food coloring
  • Cotton swabs or toothpicks
  • Dish soap
  • A dish or plate with a rim that can hold liquid.

Directions:

Step 1: First, add some milk or cream to your dish. You want to make sure the milk completely covers the bottom of the dish, but you don’t need to completely fill it.

A dish of milk for tie dye milk experiment

Step 2: Next, add 4 drops of food coloring to the center of the dish, being careful not to let them mix. Don’t stir the milk and food coloring! You want them to stay separate for now.

Add dye to milk

Step 3: Pick up your cotton swab or toothpick. Carefully cover one end of it with dish soap.

Add dish soap to a qtip to create tie-dye milk effect

Step 4: When you’re ready, touch the center of the milk with the soapy end of your swab and watch the colors move!

The result of tie-dye milk experiment

The Science of Tie-Dye Milk

  • Milk is a mixture. It’s mostly water, but it also has proteins, fats, and other molecules mixed in.
  • Because milk is mostly made up of water, it acts a lot like water and has many of the same properties.
  • One of these properties is called surface tension. Surface tension is how resistant a liquid is to external force, or how strong the surface of the liquid is. It’s a bit like the surface of water having a sort of “skin.” This is how some insects can walk on water.
  • Soap is what we call a surfactant. It lowers the surface tension of a liquid.
  • When we dip the soap in the milk, it lowers its surface tension and causes not just the water molecules, but fat and protein molecules, to move as they quickly rearrange themselves.
  • By adding food coloring, we can see the movement caused by lowering the surface tension.

Expand on This Activity:

  • Ask Your Scientist the Following Questions:
    • What new colors do you see?
    • How are the colors moving?
    • Why do you think this happened?
  • Keep Experimenting:
    • Press down on the bottom of the dish with the soap-covered cotton swab for three seconds, then lift up. How is the movement of the colors different than when you quickly touch the cotton swab to the milk’s surface?
    • Touch the cotton swab to areas where the colors have collected to watch the colors continue to move.
    • Try the experiment with more or fewer colors of food coloring. How is the tie-dye different?

The Science of Tie-Dye Milk

  • Milk is a mixture. It’s mostly water, but it also has proteins, fats, and other molecules mixed in.
  • Because milk is mostly made up of water, it acts a lot like water and has many of the same properties.
  • One of these properties is called surface tension. Surface tension is how resistant a liquid is to external force, or how strong the surface of the liquid is. It’s a bit like the surface of water having a sort of “skin.” This is how some insects can walk on water.
  • Soap is what we call a surfactant. It lowers the surface tension of a liquid.
  • When we dip the soap in the milk, it lowers its surface tension and causes not just the water molecules, but fat and protein molecules, to move as they quickly rearrange themselves.
  • By adding food coloring, we can see the movement caused by lowering the surface tension.

Learn More: Chemistry

  • Many atoms and molecules have positive (+) or negative (-) charges. An atom or molecule with no charge is called neutral. Positive and negatively charged atoms attract, just like the north and south poles of a magnet.
  • Molecules can be polar or nonpolar. Polar molecules have one side that is much more positive or negative than the other. Nonpolar molecules don’t have a difference in charge. Polar molecule likes to mix with other polar molecules, and nonpolar molecules like mix with other nonpolar molecules. Polar and nonpolar molecules don’t mix. This is what keeps oil and water separate; oil is made of nonpolar molecules and water is made of polar molecules!
  • Water molecules have a positive side and negative side. This makes water a polar molecule. Because of this, water molecules can stick to each other. Molecules in liquid sticking to each other is known as cohesion. The cohesion between the water molecules at the surface is what creates surface tension.
  • Soap molecules have a negative side and neutral side, so it has both a polar and nonpolar end. The negative side of the soap molecule is attracted to the positive side of the water molecule, weakening the attraction between the water molecules and lowering the surface tension.
  • But that’s not all. The neutral sides of the soap molecules also interact with the nonpolar fat molecules, separating them out of the milk. This is how soap is able to clean up greasy messes!

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Ice Cream Science Project: How to Make Ice Cream in 3 Simple Steps

I scream, you scream, we all scream "SCIENCE" with this ice cream science project!

Feel the chill this winter as you learn the science of cold by making homemade ice cream! This vanilla or chocolate ice cream science project doesn’t require any fancy equipment, just plastic food storage bags, elbow grease, and chemistry!

Recommend age: 5+; younger scientists may need help measuring ingredients and shaking the bag.

Mess Alert: This activity can be messy since the bags can leak! You may want to shake the bags outside or over a sink.

Materials you will need:

  • ½ cup of whole milk or half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • 6 tablespoons of rock salt or ice cream salt
  • 1 pint-size plastic food storage bag (e.g., Ziploc)
  • 1 gallon-size plastic food storage bag
  • Ice cubes
  • Duct tape
Completed chocolate ice cream science project

Directions:

Step 1:

Fill the gallon-size plastic food storage bag halfway with ice, and add the rock salt to the ice. Seal the bag so it doesn’t spill while you prepare the ice cream ingredients.

Tip: You can add more than one bag of ice cream to the bag of ice and shake them at the same time. If you do make more than one bag, you can use a Sharpie to label the bags of ice cream to tell them apart.

add rock salt to ice cream science project

Step 2:

Add the milk and sugar to the pint-size plastic food storage bag. Optional: add cocoa powder to the pint-size bag to make chocolate ice cream. (Add the vanilla to the pint-size bag, even chocolate ice cream has a little vanilla in it!)

Squeeze the excess air out of the pint-size bag and seal it, and tape the seal shut with duct tape to keep it from spilling. Shake the pint-size bag for a few seconds to mix the ice cream ingredients.

Tip: ½ cup of milk will make about 1 scoop of ice cream, so double the recipe if you want more. But don't increase the proportions more than that – a large amount might be too big for kids to pick-up because the ice itself is heavy.

adding vanilla to ice cream science project

While you're making and shaking your ice cream talk about physical and chemical changes  and encourage your scientist to answer the following:

  • What does your ice cream look like?
  • Why do you think the ingredients in the pint-size bag turn to ice cream?
  • What do you think the shaking did?
  • Why do you think we added salt to the ice?
  •  What physical or chemical changes did you observe while making your ice cream?
  • What other examples of physical or chemical changes can you think of?
  • Dive deeper into a science topic with the “Learn More” section.

Step 3:

Open the gallon-size bag and put the pint-size bag inside it, and carefully seal the gallon-size bag again. Make sure it is completely shut!

Shake until the mixture in the pint-size bag is ice cream, which takes about 5 minutes.

Wipe off or rinse the top of the pint-size bag with cold water to remove any salt, then open the bag carefully, add any toppings you would like, and enjoy your ice cream!

seal liquid ingredients before shaking

Expand on the activity! 

The Science: Physical and Chemical Changes

We talk about two types of changes in chemistry: physical changes and chemical changes. We also talk a lot about matter, which is is anything that takes up space.

In a physical change, the form of matter is changed, while its chemical identity remains the same.

  • Think about cutting a piece of paper into bits. It’s still paper, just in smaller pieces. Physical changes are also reversible. You could tape the paper back together! Other examples of physical changes include boiling, melting, freezing, dissolving, and mixing.

In a chemical change, the chemical reaction occurs. The chemical reaction changes the chemical identity of the matter, and new products are formed that you can’t easily reverse.

  • Think of a campfire. The fire takes a log and creates ash and smoke, two chemically-distinct products.

There are 5 signs that a chemical reaction has occurred. They’re easy to remember… just think about F.A.R.T.S.

Fizzes: Did the reaction produce bubbles or gas?

Aroma: Did the reaction produce a smell?

Re-color: Did the reaction produce a new color?

Temperature: Did the reaction produce a temperature change or release light?

New Substance: Did the reaction produce a new substance?

When making ice cream, you’re using physical changes. You mix and dissolve the sugar into the milk, but this doesn’t change the chemical structure of the milk and you could remove the sugar is you tried.

When you shake your bag, you’re freezing the milk, which means the water in it is turning from a liquid (water) into a solid (ice). This is also a physical change! We still see lots of physical and chemical changes in the kitchen. Which ones can you think of?

Learn More: Chemistry

Why do we shake our ice cream science project instead of just popping the ice cream in the freezer?

Ice cream is an emulsion. In an emulsion, small droplets of one liquid are dispersed (or spread out) throughout another. When you shake the ice cream, you disperse the ice crystals, fat molecules, and air in the other ingredients.

The more you shake, the smaller the ice crystals get and the more air you add. This makes the ice cream creamier! We add salt to the ice so we can shake the ice cream long enough to emulsify it.

Every substance has a melting point, which is the temperature it melts or freezes at. For freshwater, the melting temperature is 32ºF/0ºC. Adding rock salt lowers the melting point of water. A 10% salt solution freezes at about 20ºF/-6ºC.

With a lower melting point, we can shake the ice cream longer to better diffuse the different parts. If it froze faster, this would be much harder to do.

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What to do with Leftover Candy? Learn Some Sweet Science with this STEM Experiment

Are you wondering what to do with leftover candy? You're in for a treat!

This experiment is sugar, and spice, and everything science! Join us as we dive into some chemistry (and our candy stash) and we'll give you a fun trick for what to do with your leftover treats. 

We'll use a little bit of candy to make pictures that swirl like magic, to explore chemistry, and to practice making predictions and observations.

Materials you will need:

  • Candy with a hard shell, like Skittles or M&M’s
  • Warm water
  • Shallow dish or plate that can hold liquid
skittles in a dish and water -leftover candy materials

Directions:

Step 1:

Arrange your candy in a design on your dish.

  • You can try arranging them in a circle around the edge of the dish, or making pictures with them. Since we're using Halloween candy, we made a pumpkin.
skittles arranged in the shape of a pumpkin -leftover candy and what to do with it

Step 2:

Slowly pour your warm water over the candy.

Encourage your scientist to answer these questions:

  • Before you add water, ask your scientist what they think will happen and why. This is called a hypothesis.
  • What happens to the letter on the candy?
  • Why do think the colors are moving?
  • Why do you think the colors aren’t mixing?
  • How do you think you could speed up the reaction
pouring water on leftover candy

Step 3:

Watch what happens! What do you observe?

Make it sweeter!

  • Make different designs. How are the color patterns different based on the design you make?
  • Add another piece of candy after you’ve added water and the colors have started to spread out. What happens?
  • Add a sugar cube to the candy after you’ve added the water and the colors have started to spread out. What happens?
  • Experiment with different water temperatures. What temperature works best?
  • Try using different candies. Which ones do you think will cause colors to spread out across the water
skittles in water with the colors swirling around - what happens to leftover candy

Expand on the Activity! 

The Science

  • The colored shells on Skittles and M&M’s are made out of sugar and food coloring. As the sugar and food coloring dissolve in water, they diffuse (or spread out) across it. This changes the clear water to the colors of the candy.

  • The colors move from the area with the highest concentration of color (the candy and the area right next to it) to the area with lowest concentration (the area farthest away from the candy). Watch how the color moves away from the candies. Molecules moving from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration is called a concentration gradient.

  • The colors don’t mix because of something called water stratification. Each color of food coloring has a slightly different chemical make-up. Because of this, they have slightly different densities. This keeps the colors from mixing as they spread out.

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Kitchen Chemistry for Kids: Get Hands-On, Then Get Your Snack On

Learning has never been sweeter with this kitchen chemistry for kids of all ages!

Everything we interact within our day-to-day lives is made out of molecules. There are countless different kinds of molecules, each made out of atoms of different elements.

This kitchen chemistry for kids will help build an understanding of atoms and molecules as we create our own atomic marshmallow models!

Materials you will need:

  • Colored marshmallows
    *If you don’t have marshmallows, you can use clay, playdough, etc...
  • Toothpicks 
Materials for Kitchen Chemistry for Kids

Molecules:

Hydrogen (H2):

  • Some molecules are homonuclear, which means they are made up of just two atoms of the same element. Let’s make a homonuclear hydrogen molecule.
  • To make a hydrogen molecule, grab 2 marshmallows of the same color. Then connect them with toothpicks, as shown in the picture.
Kitchen Chemistry for Kids- hydrogen molecule

Water (H2O – Dihydrogen Monoxide):

  • The most important molecule for life on Earth is H2O, or water. It is made of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom.
  • To make a water molecule, grab 2 marshmallows of one color and 1 of another. Then connect them with toothpicks, as shown in the picture. They should make a V shape.
Kitchen Chemistry for Kids- water molecule

Salt (NaCl – Sodium Chloride):

  • Salt molecules form cube-shaped crystals.
  • To make a salt molecule, you will need 8 marshmallows total, 4 of one color, and 4 of another. Connect them together in a cube, as shown in the picture
Kitchen Chemistry for Kids- salt molecule

Expand on this activity!

What other molecules can you make? Can you make methane? What about hydrogen peroxide? What’s the biggest molecule you can make? Check out MolView to see the digital models of all kinds of substances that you can base your marshmallow models off of!

Did you make your own marshmallow atomic models? We’d love to see how they turned out! Snap a photo of your models and submit it to our Science Showcase or tag Orlando Science Center and use #OSCatHome on social media! You might be featured on our channels.

The Science:

  • Real molecules aren’t held together by toothpicks. Instead, the atoms are bound together by positive and negative charges.
  • Water molecules are held together by covalent bonds, meaning they share negatively-charged particles called electrons.
  • Salt is a different kind of molecule, one that is made of ions. This happens when an atom gains or loses an electron. Sodium (Na) loves to get rid of electrons, so it is usually positive. Chloride (Cl) loves to steal electrons, so it is usually negative.
  • Molecules like this do not share electrons like water molecules do with covalent bonds. Instead, one atom gives an electron to the other, resulting in two charged atoms (ions). Just like with magnets, opposites attract. So, the positive sodium atoms and the negative chloride atoms will group together in the pattern that you’ve made. We call this an ionic bond.

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