Deep down, we are all scientists to some level. We all want to have a better understanding as to why some things cause other things to happen. Or maybe it’s just that you want to make cool things happen when doing experiments. Well, this is the first of a series of articles that will show you how you can unleash your inner scientist with a couple of simple, fun and inexpensive experiments you can do, right in your own house.

Today’s Experiment: Make a Volcano!

What you will need:

– A thing that looks roughly like a volcano, that has a whole down the centre of it. Whether you want to be creative and make one out of paper Mache, buy a case from a shop or go into the garden and make a pile of earth, it’s up to you. But it shouldn’t affect the experiment.
– A container, that will fit into the top of your volcano. The size is up to you, but too big or too small, and the experiment may not work.
– Vinegar
– Washing Up Liquid
– Baking soda

What you need to do:

– Prepare the area for the experiment. It needs to be somewhere that you are ok to get messy and a bit smelly from the vinegar
– Put the container into the top of the ‘volcano’
– Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda
– Add a tablespoons of washing up liquid
– Add around 5 drops of the food colouring, if you are going to use it
– Add about 30g of vinegar and watch the volcano erupt!

If all goes well, you should see the mixture bubble up, and the ‘lava’ flow over the sides of the volcano. You’ve done it! If it doesn’t work, wash out the container and try again. Add more of some ingredients. Keep trying different things.  Even the best scientists don’t always get results first time.

Now to make it into a real experiment – lets change some things!
– Does the shape of the ‘volcano’ affect how the ‘lava’ travels?
– What combination of vinegar and baking soda creates the biggest eruption?

Just generally have a muck around with it. Create your own combinations, see what happens (within reason, of course).

The science behind the experiment

To understand how the experiment works, we first need to know some background information about science. First off, the pH scale.
The pH scale is a measurement of how strong or weak a chemical is, and goes from 1 to 14. A pH of 1 indicates that the substance is an acid and is very strong, such as the battery inside a battery and could potentially burn you if you touch it. A pH of 14 indicates that the substance is a very strong alkali, such as bleach or drain cleaning chemicals – they are very toxic, even to get on your skin. Water (normally) has a pH of 7 and is known as ‘neutral’ – it is neither acidic or alkaline.

Vinegar is a fairly strong acid, measuring around 2.4 of the pH scale. Baking soda has a pH of around 9, so is an alkali. When an acid and an alkali mix, they react, producing carbon dioxide, the same stuff as we breathe out, along with water. This, along with the washing up liquid, creates all the fizzing and the bubbles that you (should) see.