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6 Fun Science Experiments to Do with Snow

Whether your still stuck indoors or looking for something fun to do after a day of battling the elements to get to school/work, here are six fun science experiments to do in the wintry weather.

By
Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD,
Episode #178

Much of the eastern U.S. was buried over the weekend by Winter Storm Jonas in over two feet of snow. Here are six fun experiments you can do in the snow:

1. Freezing Bubbles

My toddler loves bubbles, especially popping them, so she got a huge thrill from this experiment. If the temperature is cold enough (it worked for me around 10 degrees Fahrenheit), you can actually freeze bubbles as a demonstration of a phase transition from liquid soapy water to a solid. For best viewing results, be sure to blow the bubble high enough upward so that it has time to freeze before hitting the ground. Alternatively, let the bubble rest on the bubble wand so you can observe it before it pops. The kaleidoscope patterns created by the soap are impressive for observers of any age.

2. How Many Inches of Snow Equal One Inch of Rain?

If it’s not cold enough for bubble freezing, you can instead use the melting and freezing of the snow itself for a quick science lesson in phase transitions as well as testing a scientific hypothesis. Place some snow in a cup, and then let it melt. What volume of liquid do you expect to get based on your volume of snow? You may have heard the rule of thumb that 10 inches of snow translates to one inch of rain. This is roughly true when ambient temperatures during the snowfall are around -1 degree Celsius (or 30 degrees Fahrenheit), but the ratio decreases as temperatures get warmer. Heavy, wet snow—the kind that falls at warmer temperatures—has a higher water content than more powdery, dry snow. So snow storms during temperatures closer to 35 degrees will see a ratio of 5 inches of snow to one inch of water. Experiment with where you place your cup of snow (sun vs shade) and how the time it takes to melt depends on the original volume. Don’t forget to make predictions and explain your hypotheses!

3. Deflate a Balloon Without Letting Any Air Out

The volume or space a gas takes up depends on its temperature. Assuming no change in pressure, a cooler gas will take up less space. You can think of the gas as a collection of particles moving around and bumping into the sides of their container. A hotter gas will have more energy and those particles will be moving faster, thus leading to more collisions and, if the container permits it, a spreading out of the gas.

Inflate a balloon (the exhale method is OK; you don’t need helium for this) and tie it off securely. Bring the balloon outside into the cold after making a prediction about what will happen to it. As the air begins to cool, the gas particles will begin to slow down and take up increasingly less space. You should see the balloon shrink and shrivel. The colder the temperature, the faster this effect will happen. What do you think will happen when you bring the balloon back inside?

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