How to Win Science Fairs as a Grown-Ass Adult

Bonus: You won't set your house on fire.


Unless you’re gainfully employed as a scientist, you probably haven’t done much science since high school other than work on your own reproductive biology. That’s a shame, because while you head to the farmer’s market or carefully consider what bar to spend your paycheck on, you could be spending less than $20 holding your own science fair at home. Why leave the joy of basic science experiments to children and President Obama? Be the scientist you know yourself to be, regardless of whether you remember the periodic table or not.

Here are six experiments to try out, some of which involve alcohol and some of which can be done while simultaneously consuming alcohol. Perform at your own caution, and don’t sue us if you screw up.

Make a Cloud in a Bottle

Clouds: You know them as puffs of tiny water vapors and ice crystals in the sky and the things sometimes you think look like animals. Make your own pseudo-cloud at home using a bike pump, rubbing alcohol, plastic bottle, and wine cork. These instructions come from the helpful YouTube show, Household Hacker.

Instant cloud!


Pour the rubbing alcohol into the plastic bottle and swirl it around until the entire inside is covered. Grab your wine cork, drill a hole down its middle, and attach it to your bike pump’s valve (that’s the part you put in the tire) — this is now your plug. Take that cork attached valve, and fit it into the top of the bottle.

Now is when the magic happens: Slowly pump four or five times, then pull the plug out. Wha la the drastic temperature change will cause the alcohol vapor and air molecules to stick together, creating yourself a cloud in a bottle.

Make Magic Mud

It’s very likely that you made magic mud in second grade. If so, good for you; now you can do it while drinking a gin and tonic.

For this experiment, you’ll need potatoes, tonic water, a strainer, a food processor, and two big bowls (if you don’t have potatoes you can also use corn starch). Get to business — these directions are courtesy of YouTuber Grant Thompson. Chop the potatoes into the smallest pieces possible with either your food processor or a knife. Slide those bits into a large mixing bowl and then use enough hot water to cover them completely.

You’re going to then stir them around for a few minutes before straining the potato bits from the water. The water is what you want — take that and let it sit for about ten minutes. That’s when you’ll notice the water has separated into normal looking water and a white layer. Pour out the water so you only have the white layer, flush it out with some clean water, and then dump out that water so you only have your goop. Let that sit around for two days; it’ll turn into a white powder.

Spoiler: This is what you're making.

Grant Thompson/Giphy/YouTube

This is where the gin and tonic come in: Get the tonic and pour it onto your crumbly powder to turn the potato gunk into magic mud. Because tonic water contains quinine, and quinine becomes fluorescent under black light, your magic mud also turns fluorescent. If you mess with it and constantly roll the magic mud, you’ll find that it acts and feels a lot like pizza dough. If you stop, it collapses into a goo. That’s because this mixture is a suspension of two states of matter — when pressure is applied it acts like a solid, and when that pressure is released it flows like a liquid.

Make Handheld Fireballs

First of all, be careful with this experiment. The whole idea is that you can hold the fireball you’re about to create, but let’s be real: How certain are you that you won’t mess up? Be extra safe the first time you try this by wearing flame retardant gloves and perform the whole experiment away from flammable materials.

That said, the whole gimmick behind this thing is to hold fire in your bare hand. To do so, cut a two- to six-inch piece of fabric from a material that won’t catch fire at low temperatures, like cotton or wool. Roll that piece of fabric tightly up, thread a needle into it, and sew it tightly into a ball. Then you’re going to wet the ball with a lighter fluid like Naphtha or a heater fuel like Kerosene.

This is probably a different fireball than you're used to.

The Revolt Lab/Giphy/YouTube

Put the ball onto a fire-safe surface, douse it with your lighter fluid, then set it aflame. You should be able to pick it up from its side and hold it for a few seconds, like an everyday Human Torch. Because vapors are burning all over the ball you can hold it without getting burned.

Mess Around with Fluorescein

Fluorescein is what you’re after — the stuff that’s inside highlighters and what Chicago uses to dye its river green on St. Patrick’s Day. YouTube channel NightHawkInLight advises this experiment be done outside and with a hot plate to avoid any danger.

For this experiment, you’ll need 15 highlighter markers. Unscrew the bottom of the markers to pull out the tube of bright yellow coloring — that’s your fluorescein. Now you’ll need a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a quarter-inch hose top. Drill this top into the lid of the bottle, so that it’s easier to squirt out the alcohol. You need this to extract the fluorescein from the tubes — hold the tube over a bowl and pump the alcohol into the tube to flush out the fluorescein. When you have your bowl of fluorescein mixed with alcohol, put that into a sauce pan, place it on your hot plate, and set to a low simmer.

That’s the dangerous part — alcohol vapors are flammable so you want to make sure you’re in a very well ventilated area with nothing flammable nearby. The alcohol vapor will evaporate out of the pan, leaving you with a syrupy burnt orange concoction of fluorescein. If you pour this into a bowl of water and shine a black light on it, you’ll see it spiral into spectacular lime green pillars.

Fluorescein will  change from orange-red to green-yellow.


Make a Noodle Rocket

This experiment also comes from the YouTube channel NightHawkInLight. Here you’re making your very own hybrid rocket fuel engine — the sort of rocket engine that is a combination of a solid fuel source and a liquid or gaseous oxidizer. Your solid fuel source in this experiment is also what you can make for dinner later: ziti macaroni noodles. The oxidizer will be pure oxygen gas.

Take that Elon Musk.


To make this oxygen gas, you’ll need hydrogen peroxide and active dry yeast. Before you get into that, take the lid and drive a tiny hole in the center of it. Then fill the canning jar three-fourths of the way with hydrogen peroxide and then throw in a quarter of a teaspoon of yeast. This is going to start bubbling — put on the lid but do not screw on the seal that usually comes with canning jars; you need the lid to be able to pop off if it all becomes too pressurized.

Now grab your safety glasses ya’ll, because science is happening. Place your pasta so that a bit of it has gone through the hole in your lid. Then light the top of the ziti up. You’ll see a steady fire burn through the core of the pasta, because a flow of oxygen is being pushed up towards it. Because the heavy weight of the oxygen source and the lack of any nozzle, your jar isn’t going to go flying. But you are recreating how many advance rockets work. Take that, Elon Musk.