Save yourself and your kids from over-indulging in those adorable, irresistible bite-sized candies and instead use them in the name of science.
Here are three candy experiments arranged from simplest to most complex. If your child has food allergies of any kind, consider adding latex-free gloves for safety and to set the stage.
Science is a pathway to learning about the world and making sense of your environment. Science gives structure to discoveries. Simply put, it is the process of asking a question, conducting an experiment to attempt to answer that question, making observations, asking more questions, collecting data, analyzing that data, and checking back with your initial question again.
Research scientists — the folks with the fancy degrees and white coats — use very precise language to describe what they learn from asking questions. They utilize a lot of statistics and mathematics when they analyze their data, but they are still performing the exact same process of learning about the world that young scientists use.
1. Sink and Float
Gather: a container with water, a bunch of candy
Instructions: Sort the candy into two piles. One pile is the candy that you predict, or guess, will float. In the other, put candy you predict will sink.
Next, unwrap the candy and test your predictions one candy at a time. Leave the wrappers in the piles so you can see how you did with your predictions. Older kids can draw or write down their predictions and make notes about whether they were correct.
Science content: Most candy will sink, including most candy bars and button-like candy. A notable exception is a 3 Musketeers Bar. If you break open candy bars many are fairly solid, but 3 Musketeers are fluffy inside with lots of little pockets of air.
The air bubbles make the candy positively buoyant, or lighter than water. Other candy bars are negatively buoyant, or sinkers.
2. The Sourest
Many candies, especially at Halloween, come with claims that they are super, mega, ultra sour. But which is the most sour of all?
Gather: Water, a muffin tin, water, baking soda, measuring spoon and cups, sour candy
Instructions: First, make your prediction and order the candy from most to least sour. Fill the muffin cups with one quarter to one-third cup of water; make sure they all have the same amount. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to each one and mix. Next, add the candy into the mixture one at a time and one per muffin cup.
What happened? Some of the candy will foam up like crazy and others will fizz for long periods of time.
Science content: The baking soda is a base and the candy contains acids similar to vinegar. When the two combine, a chemical reaction occurs and carbon dioxide is released. The more surface area that is exposed to the baking soda and water, the faster the carbon dioxide is released.
Some other questions older kids might be encouraged to explore, or use as a basis for a science fair project, might be examining the melting points of different candy, do different colors of M&Ms or Reece’s Pieces taste different, or is the color on a button candy just one color or many colors blended together?
3. Ms and Ss
There is an urban legend — and what story about Halloween would be complete without at least one — that the S on a Skittle will separate from the candy and float. Here is how to test it.
Gather: a container with water (glass or opaque), Skittles and M&Ms
Instructions: Ask your scientists to make prediction about what they think will happen. Will the S or M, stay on or float off the candy? Plunk Skittles and M&Ms into the water, but make sure that the letter is facing up. Now comes the hard part: Wait.
If you wait a few moments, first you will find that the color starts to come off the candy. If you have a glass container, you can put a white piece of paper under the candy to see this better. After a short time, the Ss and the Ms really do float off the candy and will rise to the surface of the water. If they don’t do anything for a while, you can try using a small paintbrush to encourage them to let go of the candy.
Science content: The glue holding the letters on the candy is water soluble — meaning it will break down in water. The letters are completely edible, but contain a small amount of oil, which is positively buoyant or lighter than water.