bubbles

Hosting this parks program for 10 years, there have been lots of awkward and funny slips and spills. Most of these result from “Feel it!” day and the variety of goos that we create on Fridays. In fact, it was a few years ago that Arts in the Parks started going to parks a week before us — originally we led the way. This was, in part, because we sometimes left some residue in the grass that hadn’t completely been washed away by the weekend sprinklers, and it surprised artists teaching people to dance, act, and play. We were both apologetic and a little proud that our influence remained even after we’d left. (Not to worry. Everything that we might spill is water soluble.)

But, as far as real spills and treachery go, our bubbles top the list of troublemakers. They’re also one of our very most favorite things, and giant bubbles have been a staple of the program for 10 years. They’ve been hosted on different days because they have so many different attributes and applications, but most recently they’ve been a feature of Thursday’s “Move it!” theme.

What I really love about bubbles is that there is so much to observe and do with them. First, they make these great spheres of almost-nothingness. They have all kinds of colors; they wobble; they flow around the edges and drip from the bottom; and when they pop they spring back on themselves and then leave behind a shred of their bubble skin. And, when you have buckets and a kiddie pool of our solution, you can blow all kinds of varieties of sizes from straws or wands or pipes or even your own two hands.

One especially interesting thing about bubbles is that they are really, really hard to get good pictures of them. Cameras don’t like to focus on them, and the lighting that’s interesting for bubbles is not what a camera is metering on. And, of course, bubbles pop at just the wrong moment. We’ve taken lots and lots of bad pictures of bubbles, as well as a few good ones. (We like to show these on these webpages and on Flickr when we have the chance.)

Our in-house bubble solution is so gooey that it makes giant bubbles. On a cooler day that isn’t too dry, we can get a bubble that can be as long as a car and as tall as a child, streaming out from a loop of cotton yarn as a wobbly iridescent film. The trick to this is a little bit in the conditions and in the cotton loop, but most of the credit goes to the ingredients. Essentially, if you can make bubbles that are more gooey but still liquid, they stay together almost magically.

That magic goo comes at a small price. For something that’s mostly detergent and water, it makes a big, slimy, slippery mess. We know this all too well from firsthand experience. Also, the ingredients can be a little weird, but I think that, deep down, this is part of what we like about it. When we were running low on supplies last week, I think that the staff was giggling as they sent me to the store to pick up extra tubes of what’s known as “personal lubricant.” In addition, we keep on hand a bottle of powder that is mixed with water to create a super slippery gel that veterinarians use to deliver calves. This is the kind of stuff that works well for making bubbles.

If you’d like to see our recipe and even try it out, we’ve created this annotated copy. On our general recipes page, you’ll see a simpler concoction for bubbles (and other stuff), as well as links for other bubble resources and ideas. Try them out; and by all means please let us know how it turns out or if you run into questions. We love to hear about your own experiments.

work and play

We’re rounding out the first week of the 2016 tour of Science in the Parks, and already we’re having all kinds of fun. On our Facebook page and on our Flickr account you can see photos that people post. (In addition, we had this recent bit of press, and some people out in the community are tagging their own photos with #scienceintheparks.) There are so many moments, both captured in photos and in memory, where there’s not just the image of a magnet pulling iron filings or flakes of glitter making patterns on a vibrating plate, but the look on kids’ faces as they play with these things. Big eyes, careful concentration, and wide grins are all the norm.

On the other side of it all is the staff and volunteers out in the sun in the middle of the day, setting up the tents and pulling out the 5-gallon buckets of bubble solution and cleaning up all the goo on Fridays. This year, we brought out sand and water erosion tables — so kids could see how water and sediment interact with various channels and dams — but this, of course, means that someone has to lug all the sand and water to the parks, set up the system of tubes, and clean it all up afterwards. (Fortunately, kids love helping us dig up the sand after we’re done.)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of work that goes into the program. Yesterday afternoon, as I was leaving campus and checking on supplies, I found this:

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Staff and volunteers have prepared 250 little baggies, each filled with a precise mixture of glue and water. When they get to the park today, kids will get to add a squirt of some Borax and water, along with some food color, to make a slime that they can take home. Because everyone should have some slime to take home, right? I’m grateful that kids clamor to get their slime, that parents tolerate the slime they get to take home, and especially that we have people who are preparing the bags of slime (and the sand and the corn starch and the bubbles and … ) and helping everyone else to get their own hands in it.

in preparation

The other day I walked into our modest prep area in the basement of the lecture hall. There was a line of string running from a cabinet to the gas spigot, and from the string there was a makeshift collection of miniature laundry. In this case, it was pieces of filter paper that had been soaking in red cabbage juice. On the counter, there was a tray with cups of purple, green, blue, pink, and red fluids, all vivid and matching some of the papers strips that were being prepped. Celia, one of our staff leaders, had been experimenting with the juice and the papers and the color changes that these go through to indicate different kinds of substances, acids and bases. It was as though some bizarre ultra saturated rainbows had spilled into the lab.

A few days later, Misti, our other lead staffer, called me into the same cramped basement space. She had assembled what most families would qualify as a disaster in the making. On the counter, a 5-gallon bucket of water with tubing fed water into a large bin with sand that was propped on a storage bin just below; and from that bin there was another piece of tubing that led to another bin of sand on the floor. It was like a Rube Goldberg machine of sludge, and it was marvelous. Water carved out new channels and deposited sand in evolving patterns. I reached in to scoop up a glob of wet sand and make a dam, which overflowed and burst. We started talking about the realities of how to haul 100 pounds of sand and many gallons of water in the trailer.

These are the kinds of things we prep for Science in the Parks. Sometimes we start with ideas, like the color changing and the sand eroding, and then see what we can do to make it work. Then we have to figure out how we’re going to contain it, transport it, and make sure it’s up to the task of having a couple hundred kids play with it. Other times, we’re just fiddling around with the magnets and realize that they will draw the iron filings in new arrangements in a jar. Or, the piece of tubing that we were planning on using for the new ping-pong-ball-pegboard-plumbing-maze construction (I’ll have to think of a shorter name for this) is spontaneously used to make a wave while we’re playing with it on the floor. Or, the geology department is trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of extra rocks — of course we take them. Or, the new microscopes we have remind us of our idea to have x-ray slides, and then we start on a quest to find transparencies of someone’s ribcage or skull or foot bones or all of these. Consistently, “all of these” is our answer.

This is our 10th season of Science in the Parks. Each year, we put in a lot of time just making the messes to prepare all the things, new and old. Through it all I’m always reminded of how the program isn’t “science” in that starched lab coat kind of way. Instead, it’s creative and playful and messy and, most of all, joyful. I see this behind the scenes and, next week, we’ll get to see it again out in the parks as we start another 6-week tour. We’re excited to share that fun and mess.

Call for volunteers

Science in the Parks has a few elves in the background, working hard to put air in tires of the trailer, make sure we have enough string, develop new activities, and just generally make sure we’re organized and ready. That’s a small part of what we need, though. We need volunteers to make this program really run, and we can never have too many.

Essentially, we need people who are willing to play with fun, hands-on activities, and if you let kids and families play alongside that’s even better. We do not want people to lecture about scientific principles, but learn about new things through new experiences at the same time that a 7-year-old might be doing the same thing. Oh, and once in a while we need people who can help kids tie knots or launch rockets. But, essentially, it’s all a big playground of science, and we want you to take part.

The experience is especially valuable to people who are at Weber State, maybe pre-med students looking for volunteer hours or preservice teachers working on projects and looking for ideas for their own future classrooms. We also welcome people who are just wanting to escape work and go outside in the park during their lunch hour.

Our schedule for the summer is advertised, and you can take a look to see a little more about where we’re headed in the Ogden area. Then, as you organize your summer schedule and know when you can help out, fill out this form so that we know when to plan on you. (This also helps us to document your hours that you’ve been involved.)

The form is copied here, too, so you can just scroll through this window as well. Have questions or special considerations? Just email Adam.

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2016 Summer Tour

We’re excited to announce our Summer Tour for 2016!

  • June 6-10, 2016 at West Ogden Park (751 West 24th Street, Ogden)
  • June 13-17, 2016 at Lorin Farr Park (769 Canyon Road, Ogden)
  • June 20-24, 2016 at 4th Street Park  (275 4th Street, Ogden)
  • June 27-July 1, 2016  at Lester Park (663 24th Street, Ogden) *NOTE: THIS LOCATION CHANGED from a previously advertised park due to construction projects.
  • July 5 – 8, 2016  at Monroe Park  (850 30th Street, Ogden) *Note: No lunch or science hosted on July 4.
  • July 11-15, 2016 at Mt. Ogden Park (3144 Taylor Avenue, Ogden)
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Building our 2016 program.

All activities will be hosted from approximately 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM, coinciding with Ogden School District’s free lunch program hosted at each of these parks. Each day of the week will host a different theme and a different set of activities, and these will be cycled through at each park. We’ve teamed up with Arts in the Park again so that we follow them through town.

We’ll post more information as we get closer. In the next few months we’ll be recruiting volunteers and gathering up equipment and materials. (Please contact Adam Johnston if you’re interested in volunteering possibilities.)