Who am I kidding? It’s Halloween. Of course there is too much candy in your house.
You might convince your kids to forgo eating some of that candy in order to squish it, smash it and otherwise abuse it in the name of science. My 12-year-old son and I delved into the book “Candy Experiments” by Loralee Leavitt (candyexperiments.com) and learned that Wintergreen Lifesavers will spark if you chew them in the dark — evidence of the electrons in the sugar crystals recombining with the molecules — and that you can grow giant gummy bears and worms if you let them soak in water overnight — the gelatin molecules untangle and stretch out as they absorb water.
The book contains 70 such experiments. Here are a few we tried:
NERDS IN WATER
Leavitt was inspired to write the book after her daughter poured a box of Nerds candy into water to see what would happen.
So what does happen when you put Nerds in water?
“They take off their glasses and start dancing?” theorized my 12-year-old son.
Actually, the Nerds sink to the bottom, and if you look through the side of the glass you can see tiny silver bubbles forming between the pieces of candy.
We took a glass baking dish, filled it with warm water, then put an ice pack at one end and several M&Ms in the other end. As the candy coating dissolved, it formed a colorful cloud around each M&M, then streaked out like a colorful comet tail.
What we learned: Cold water is denser than warm water, so the water near the ice pack sank to the bottom of the pan. This pushed warm water toward the other side of the pan. The moving water carried the color away from the dissolving M&Ms.
We also learned that M&Ms look kind of gross without their candy coating.
CANDY WATER COOLER
We needed three small bowls, six Pixy Stix, ½ cup of room temperature water and a kitchen thermometer (optional).
We filled two of the bowls with ¼ cup of water each. We emptied the Pixy Stix into the third bowl. Then we poured the Pixy Stix powder into one of the bowls. The other bowl we left alone — it was our “control” bowl.
After the Pixy Stix powder dissolved, we stuck a finger in each bowl. Cool! Literally! The water in the Pixy Stix bowl was noticeably colder. The water temperature in our control bowl was 65 degrees. The Pixy Stix water was 59 degrees.
What we learned: Dissolving the Pixy Stix powder requires breaking apart the crystals of sugar molecules. That in turn requires energy, which is supplied by the heat of the water. As the sugar dissolves, it absorbs energy from the water, and the water gets colder.
We also learned that you don’t really want to drink Pixy Stix juice.
CANDY WATER HEATER
We tried an opposite experiment with the same three small bowls, ½ cup of room-temperature water, six Jolly Rancher candies (the original hard kind that can glue your teeth together), two zip-top bags, a hammer and a kitchen thermometer (which you do need this time).
We double-bagged the Jolly Rancher candies, then my son took them out to the sidewalk and smashed them into tiny pieces with the hammer — or you can do this in the kitchen with a rolling pin.
We poured the Jolly Rancher dust into one of the bowls of water, let it dissolve a bit, then measured the temperature of the water in each bowl.
Our control bowl was at 64 degrees, but the Jolly Rancher bowl was at 65 degrees.
What we learned: Jolly Ranchers didn’t chill the water like the Pixy Stix did because Jolly Ranchers aren’t made from sugar. They’re made from sugar and corn syrup. Those molecules don’t lock together like sugar crystals, so it doesn’t take energy to break them apart. Instead, as they dissolve they release energy, which makes the water warmer.
Also, my 12-year-old son reeeaaaaalllly likes to smash things with a hammer.
Want to try these and other candy experiments yourself? Enter this week’s Cookbook Giveaway. Details below.