Each year my kids’ school holds a Science Fair.  Participation is mandatory beginning in 4th grade.  That means us.


The Fair happened last night.  A large percentage of the projects on display were cookie related.  There was the “what happens if you use too much baking powder” experiment.  There was the “can you tell which one was made with sugar and which one with Splenda” experiment.   There was also the “which brand of doughnut gets moldy fastest” experiment.  All of which made attending the Science Fair past her bedtime tolerable to six-year-old Little Bit, because there were cookie taste tests everywhere you looked.


Tigger’s project was “testing the viscosity of a non-Newtonian fluid.” 


What’s that you say?  You don’t know what a non-Newtonian fluid is?  All I can say about that is, my husband is geekier than your husband.


Let me explain.  Isaac Newton said that the viscosity of substances could be changed only by temperature.  Silly Newton!  For some substances the viscosity can be changed by force too.  Those substances are non-Newtonian.  Kapiche?


Tigger used a mixture of cornstarch and water.  This amazing glop is solid and liquid at the same time.  If you apply a lot of force, say, by smacking the surface of it with your hand, it is hard and solid.  But if you gently sink your hand in, it is liquid.  Cool, huh?


The experiment Tigger did involved pouring the glop through a syringe (custom-built by TechnoGeekDad) and using various amounts of force (weight) to push it through the nozzle.  It was splashy and messy and involved a stop-watch.  What more does a science project need?


The practical effect for me was I had to buy a great deal of cornstarch.  So much, in fact, that every time I had to go buy more because another 10 trials needed to be done, I went to a different store.  I was afraid that the cashier who sold me 15 boxes of cornstarch would suspect that this astonishing quantity of a white powdered substance must be drug-related, so if I came back and bought more I would be hand-cuffed by store security and hauled away before Tigger finished her project.  Luckily, I got away with it.


So if you want to play with non-Newtonian cornstarch glop, don’t buy it at the same store you go to for Sudafed.  Who knows what could happen.




25 thoughts on “

  1. How did Tigger do at the fair?  Or wasn’t it a competition? 
    Too bad she didn’t do something on chicken pox.  Her Uncle Dogma and Cousin Chip could have been a lot of help!

  2. You know, the little blonde that sold you the first 15 boxes of starch probably wouldn’t have put it together with drugs, even if you came back and bought 25 boxes of sudafed, and asked if she knew of a good website for “meth…I mean, um, crystal?”  The little old lady with blue hair wouldn’t have gone there either because you look just like her daughter and goodness knows Tracy would never consider something like drugs so this nice lady with all the white powder and drug ingredients must be getting supplies for her daughter’s science fair…surely?

  3. I like this concept of non-Newtonian liquids, fluids, excuse me. But how much pressure are we talking about? I can think of a lot of quasi-solid objects that turn to liquid mush under enough pressure! Roadkill, not to put too fine a point on it. Steel gets hotter under pressure and enough heat would melt it, but  I suppose we’re back under Newtons umbrella then. Did they get onto the subject of glass, which is a liguid, even in your window pane; albeit with a very high viscosity rating? It would be Newtonian, because pressure just breaks it all over!  Is non-Newtonian a religion, by any chance?

  4. This is a fourth grade science project? Awesome. I’m a little jealous that I wasn’t doing stuff like that in grade school. Cheers.

  5. How very kewl!!  This year was our first science project as well (also a 4th grader!).  Mike & his father picked the Mentos and variety of sodas project.  The control freak in me was less than thrilled that they weren’t more scientific in their experimentation, but oh, well, right?  The boy had fun with his dad, and his project went over well.

  6. RYC:  $30 is indeed 50% more than $21 but we were feeding three people on this budget.  That’s ten dollars per person vs. Kulongoski’s $21 = ~$17 per person in 1999 dollars.  If we had been on food stamps in 1999 we would have been eligible for up to nearly eighty dollars per week in benefits vs. our $30 “real money” budget. 

    But you’re right –  “falling through the cracks” is the real tragedy here.  And that’s part of my frustration with Kulongoski’s activities.  The problem isn’t that the food stamp allotments are too low, it’s that many of the people who need them either aren’t on them, or have bigger problems that can’t be addressed by food stamps alone (debt, unstable housing, medical problems, mental illness, lack of education).    

  7. There is much danger in completing a science project. Even in finishing a science project halfway, which was my strategy back when I had to do science projects. That way, I figured, I could experience the cognitive conundrum of taking on a specific problem in a scientific manner, struggling with it for much too long (read: more than fifteen minutes) and finally saying to heck with it, and instead throwing together an EXTREMELY inventive project consisting of whatever select damp lawn items I could find on my 10-second walk from my front door to the garage of my neighbor, with whom my brother and I carpooled for many years. Twigs, leaves, pretzels from my sack lunch: all fair game on science-fair mornings. It was good training for both sides of my brain, and usually I earned no less than a C grade! That made me average! And that was plenty.

  8. Ahh memories. In 6th grade son’s entry was a fire extinguisher. Made with bottle, hoses, water, gee was soda involved? That I don’t remember.

  9. Ahhh, I remember the good old science fair days. By the way, that is a ton of cornstarch. It’s so fun to play with too. Also, no, your husband is NOT geekier than my husband…maybe there should be a TV show called “Geek Showdown”. Maybe there is already.

  10. I would have gone to a different store, too, because I think they way you do, and it would have been worth driving a little further to not have to wonder if they were wondering about me, LOL! Lisa

  11. Sigh…I’d never even thought of that.  You’d think if folks are clever enough to figure out new ways to make drugs, that they’d be clever enough to find a way to cover up the smell and/or stop setting themselves (and others) on fire when things go wrong.

  12. RYC:  I’m interested to see where I’m going with this, too.  ‘Cause I’m not quite sure yet.
    And King Benjamin is a prophet/king in the Book of Mormon.  The man isn’t as important as the gist of his sermon: (1) don’t assume the poor are irresponsible (2) share with the poor because everything you’ve got is really God’s anyway

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