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What Makes Those Lava Lamps Bubble?

What Makes Those Lava Lamps Bubble?
by William L. Bulla

"What causes those lava lamps to bubble up?"
When asked that question, I really didn't expect the answer I received.
"Well, I have an inch of oil floating on the top of the warm water because the oil is less dense than water. When I sprinkle salt on top of the oil, the salt goes through the oil and down into the water, because it is more dense then the oil and water. As the salt goes through the oil, it pulls some of the oil with it. When the salt dissolves in the warm water, the oil goes back up to the top of the water, because it is less dense. The salt is no longer holding it down. This makes it look like a lava lamp," explained a third grader at Old Forge Elementary School.
What a great explanation from a third grade student. I couldn't have told anyone that. I had no clue how it happened. But these young people were learning the characteristics of lava lamps while making their own as part of their experiments with densities of various solids and liquids.
No, these were not students doing a science class experiment. They were kids having fun, and learning about science as members of the Science Discovery Club. The club is offered to both boys and girls as an after school activity in collaboration with the Old Forge Elementary PTA and the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council, Inc. The Science Discovery Club utilizes activities from the Girl Scout program by Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) in conjunction with the National Science Foundation. Over the last six years, the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council, Inc. has partnered with Girls, Incorporated and the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County to make this activity available to their youth. The success there has resulted in taking it to Old Forge Elementary School where it is available to more boys and girls.
Old Forge principal, John Festerman said, "The students really enjoy the Science Discovery Club. I've only heard great things about the club from the children."
"The students participate in hands-on science activities. It is a fun way of learning science," said Jane Barvir, Membership Outreach Director for the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council, Inc. "I get good reports from the teachers and parents. The teachers comment that they have limited time to teach science, so this activity enhances the curriculum. The parents comment that their children are having a great time learning science. It is an enriching experience for the children."
Making lava lamps was just one phase of the Science Discovery Club. Club members learned about other fields of science. Structural engineering was exhibited through the construction of bridges from marshmallows and dried spaghetti. Weight tests were conducted by placing coins on the structure. Everyone wanted his bridge to withstand the largest stack of pennies.
They really loved the chemistry sessions, where they mixed glue and borax laundry solutions to make something they called "gluep."
"Gluep?" I asked. "What in the world is gluep?"
With looks of disdain, they told me it was like "Gak". I was still totally lost. They finally explained that gluep is a moldable compound similar to those commercial products known as "Gak" and "Silly Putty". With the words "Silly Putty", I was back into a world I knew.
The field of forensic science allowed the participants to learn about fingerprinting and how to dust to reveal latent prints. They were excited to see the fingerprints show up when they dusted a sheet of paper with latent fingerprints on it. In fact, they got so carried away dusting with the powder that it became necessary to dust up the powder.
The field of geology provided them with an opportunity to make crystals. In a cup, the students mixed a teaspoon of alum to an ounce of water. Some of the students also added a couple of drops of food coloring to the solution to see what would happen to their crystals. They set the cups in a safe place to allow the water to evaporate. After a couple of weeks, the water had evaporated and the solution turned into crystals. Oh yes, those who had added food coloring had colorful crystals and the others were clear.
The Science Discovery Club met once a week over an 8-week period in February and March. A total of 78 students participated in the after school activity.
Because of overwhelming response, it was necessary to hold four sessions per week. Since the program contains age-related activities, separate sessions were held for the first, second, and third graders. The fourth and fifth graders combined to form the fourth session. The sessions began at 2:30PM for one hour, Monday through Thursday. Both a science program and a snack were included. Jane Barvir, adult volunteers, and parents facilitated the program. Next school year, the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council hopes to expand the program to other Washington County Schools.
The Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council, Inc., Girls, Incorporated, and the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County are all members of the United Way of Washington County. They have partnership in numerous projects to benefit their youth membership over the years.
If you are interested in volunteering or if your school or PTA is interested in partnering with the Girl Scouts of Shawnee Council, Inc, please contact Jane Barvir at the Martinsburg office at (888) 263-8834.

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