• Barb Johnson

3 Superhero Science Activities

Who doesn't love a superhero? I have always been particularly fond of superheroes. My long journey from 70's D.C. Comics Super Friends to today's Marvel's The Avengers has always made me say "That was so cool! How did they do that ?" Let's look 3 very different superheroes to see what we can learn from their amazing powers.





1. Does Whatever a Spider Can!

Supplies needed: a penny, straw, string, crayons, scissors, 2 small magnets, plastic spoon or craft stick.


One of the coolest things about Spider-Man is that he can walk up walls. We know he was bitten by a radioactive spider but is it really possible for someone to walk up walls? Kind of, but it's something instead of someone. Spiders do, in fact, climb up walls. Scientists have discovered that spiders can stick to almost any surface. Many spiders do this by secreting a little bit of sticky silk onto their feet as they move across the surface, anchoring their feet in place. We can't climb up walls but we can experiment with adhesion. Adhesion happens when different molecules want to stick to each other. We will also experiment with the power of magnets to make Spidey move.





Try this:

Penny on your head: You can stick a penny to your head using the superpower of science! Remember we said that adhesion is the attraction between unlike molecules? Well, the molecules on your head and in the penny are different enough that they can stick to each other - just a little bit!

  • Breathe on a penny a few times and then press on forehead for a few seconds. Pennies should stick!

  • How does it work? When you breathe on the penny it gets a thin coat of moisture

that acts a bit sticky - think of how you may moisten your finger to turn a page. So now the molecules on your head and the molecules in the penny are attracted to each other and slightly “stick” to one another.


Spider-Man Flyer

Now we'll look at another kind of attraction -this time the attraction is magnetic. Some magnets can be very powerful. Some cranes use magnets to pick up huge objects like cars. Some magnets are not so powerful, and may be used just to stick the 100% on a spelling test to the fridge.


Experiment with your 2 magnets. You should find that magnets do 3 things:

  • Magnets can attract each other.

  • Magnets can repel each other.

  • Magnets can stick to other metals.


Let's try this:

  • Cut out and color Spider-Man template (below). There's two copies in case you need an extra. If you don't have a printer you can always draw one!

  • Cut 1" of straw and tape to his back. Also tape a magnet to his back.

  • Slide several feet of string through the straw. Tape each end down to a table or chair and see if you can get Spiderman to "crawl" down the string by pulling him along with a second magnet.

  • Tape your second magnet to a craft stick or a plastic spoon.


SpiderMan found here: SPIDER-MAN TEMPLATE


Key Terms: cohesion, attraction, repel


2. Elastigirl


Supplies needed: ruler, objects to stretch (elastics, stretchy toys, anything you want to measure to see if it stretches, really), glue, cup, borax, water, spoon, food coloring (optional).


Who is Elastigirl? Elastigirl is Helen Parr. She is one of the Incredibles and is married to the superhero Mr. Incredible and mother to superhero children Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. Elastigirl’s superpower is the ability to stretch into any shape she can imagine. Not only can she stretch but she can also bounce back into shape. Let's talk about that ability: elasticity.



Elasticity

Before we can know if something has elasticity we need to know what it looked like before it was stretched. We can take measurements before and after stretching something to find out how elastic it is or how close to the original shape it returns. Collect your items to stretch. Try some things you think may stretch (elastics, plastic bag, "sticky" toys, fabric), and some you think that won't (blocks, pencils, LEGOs).

This is easier with more than one person, so one person can stretch and the other measure.

  • Line up your objects to be tested. You may want to get some paper to measure them all and see where you started if you'd like to collect data. You can even take a picture of them. Predict which will stretch farthest.

  • Record the length of all your items before stretching stretching.

  • With a partner, stretch (carefully) as far as they can without breaking.

  • Record the length of your items when stretched.

  • Were your predictions right? What kinds of materials stretch best?


Stretchy Slime

ADULT SUPERVISION REQUIRED

Polymers can be very elastic. A polymer is a chemical compound formed from long chains of the same molecule group, repeating over and over. Polymers are stretchable, pliable, and flexible. Let's make a stretchy slime like Elastigirl.


  • To a small cup or bowl add 1/2 cup of white glue

  • Stir in 1/2 cup of water.

  • Add 2 drops of food coloring (optional). Stir.

  • When we add the next chemical called sodium borate, it will force the molecules in the mixture to rearrange and stick together.

  • Dissolve 1 tsp borax into 1 cup warm water.

  • Add the borax solution 1 tsp at a time and stir.

  • Remove putty from cup and squeeze out excess liquid. If the putty remains sticky, add a bit more of the sodium borate solution to wash off.

  • Play with them for a few minutes. The more you play with it, the better it works!

  • Now measure how stretchy your putty is! Does it shrink back after you leave it in one place for a while?

Key terms: elasticity, polymer, measurement


3. The Flash


Supplies needed: ruler, straws, scissors, plastic wrap, cup, salt

What do you know about The Flash? He’s really fast! The Flash is the fastest man on Earth! The Flash’s greatest power is his amazing speed, but we’ll also look at his amazing ability to vibrate through solid objects!



Reaction Time

What is a reaction time? It is the time it takes your body to react to a stimulus. We’d assume that The Flash would have a tremendously fast reaction time since he is the fastest person on Earth. The good news for regular humans is that by practicing a task, you can improve your reaction time. Try this experiment with a partner.

  • Partner 1 hold the ruler at head level with your arm stretched out. Make sure the ruler is vertical. Holding the ruler with your thumb and index finger at the end with the highest measurement. Zero should face the ground.

  • Ask partner 2 to catch the ruler with their fingers when you drop it.

  • Partner 2 should put their thumb and index finger at the bottom of the ruler, slightly open. They should not be touching the ruler.

  • Drop the ruler. Write down the measurement on the ruler where your friend's thumb caught it.

  • Try this a few times to see if you get better.

  • Now switch the holder and the catcher.

  • What do you think The Flash’s reaction time would be?


Good Vibrations

Another of the Flash’s powers is his ability to vibrate so quickly that his molecules move allowing him to pass through solid objects. But what are vibrations? We can hear sounds as objects vibrate. The vibrations travel through the air in the form of a wave. You can hear a sound as long as your ear is in range of those vibrations. Sound (vibrations) can travel through solids, liquids or gases.

  • Sound is caused by vibrations. We can now also try to make our own straw flute that will vibrate and produce sound.

  • Cut straw as shown. First, flatten out one end of the straw, and then cut off two pieces to make a point.

  • Take the cut end and put it in your mouth. Give it a blow. It should make a kazoo type sound.

  • What happens if you add on another straw to the end or if you cut your straw shorter? Experiment with straws of different lengths to produce different sounds.

Salt shakin’

  • Tightly wrap the top of a cup with plastic wrap

  • Sprinkle a little salt on top of the wrap.

  • Hum loudly, clap or use your straw kazoo and watch what happens (being careful not to blow on the salt).

  • The salt should begin to jump on the plastic as the sound vibrations begin vibrating the plastic wrap.


Key terms: reaction time, vibration, sound wave



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