Let it insta-snow: Make faux snow grow this holiday season!

In the age of Instagram, instant rice and instant gratification, it can’t come as much of a surprise that there also exists insta-snow.

How does it work? Carolyn Leap knows. Our youth educator facilitates an Outreach Program here at HMNS called Science on Stage, and my favorite topic has to be Cool Chemistry. I love watching her stick things in liquid nitrogen, set things on fire that never burn and make a cup of water disappear in an instant. Carolyn is magical.

Okay, she isn’t really magical. Everything she does is totally explainable with science, but seeing kids watch these demonstrations for the first time is super fun. They are totally amazed!

One of the topics she focuses on in a Cool Chemistry program is polymers. My favorite polymer demonstration has to be instant snow. If you’ve never seen it done, it is super fun! But what is it?  And more importantly, where can you get some? First things first, my friends…

Learn how instant snow works and get your own at the Museum Store!I asked Carolyn to explain exactly how instant snow works the other day, and here is what she had to say:

“Whether it’s called ‘Amazing Snow Powder®,’ ‘Insta-Snow®,’ ‘SnoWOW®,’ ‘Magic Snow®’ or anything else, any faux snow that grows when you add water works the same way. Instant snow powder is made of some very large molecules (polymers) composed of repeating units that are hydrophilic, or ‘water-loving.’ Most synthetic polymers are not hydrophilic; plastic soda bottles, PTFE (Teflon®) coatings, and PVC pipe, for example, are not.”

“As you add water, the powder acts like a bunch of very tiny but very good sponges. When you look at a regular kitchen sponge, you can see the pores that the water fills in; with instant snow powder, the places the water occupies are way too tiny to see, but they’re still there. Fake snow’s chemical name is ‘sodium polyacrylate,’ but the absorbent polymer in disposable diapers goes by the same name, because they have very similar chemical structure. Most people call instant snow by its simple name for clarity. Depending on who you ask, polymer ‘snow’ was first developed either as a blood absorber for hospitals or as a material to use in indoor snowboard parks in Japan. However it was invented, it’s awesome!”

Want some insta-snow of your own? Visit the HMNS Online Store and pick some up for yourself! These little jars make perfect stocking stuffers, particularly for kids from southern Texas who may have never seen snow before. Want to keep it after the holidays? You can dry it out and store it for the next year, but it takes weeks to months in the Texas humidity.  We tried it one year and finally gave up around spring break!

Get your hands on science!

Terrence McGovern, a volunteer here at HMNS, does several chemistry shows a week to help teach the basics to our visitors. His show, geared towards both kids and adults, is a great way to see science in action.

Terrence explains the principles of density, acids and bases, and polymers in a way that makes it easy to understand no matter what your age is or your background in chemistry. A simple experiment with an egg, saltwater and freshwater helps to show how density affects whether or not items will float.

 Terrence McGovern demonstrates how density works
with the help of a member of the audience.

Terrence also shows how acid and bases can react with one another. Filling a bottle with vinegar (an acid) and placing a little baking soda (a base) in a balloon, he shows how the two react to form a gas that inflates the balloon.

 
 Chemical Reaction!

So come on down to HMNS and see one of Terrence’s many shows and learn all about chemistry.

This show is free for patrons with a ticket for our exhibition halls. For more information and show times, call the box office at 713-639-4629.

Cigar boxes and sparkles are the way to a teachers heart!

Earlier this month we had our first Educator’s Overnight of the school year and the theme was Day of the Dead! This topic has been near and dear to the Education department and we always manage to have one or two activities for teachers or students surrounding the Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Teachers adding details to their cigar box altars!

Teachers adding details to their cigar box altars!

We had a great time getting everything ready for the activities. We had plenty of things planned so that the hours would be full of things to do. Our goal was to make activities that teachers could “try” and then take back with them to their classroom to use with their students – what we didn’t expect was that the teachers would have so much fun with the arts and crafts! Kathleen Havens, the assistant director of youth education here at the museum, put together an awesome curriculum and gave the teachers the jumping off points and examples for all of the hands on activities.  

These enthusiastic educators transformed their simple cigar boxes into detailed works of art!

These enthusiastic educators transformed their simple cigar boxes into detailed works of art!

The teachers decorated ‘calacas’,  went through the process of making sugar skullsand then decorated some pre-made sugar skulls with colorful royal icing, created mini-altars in cigar boxes and painted Catrina-shaped fridge magnets. If you’ve ever worked with a group of kids on a project and you hear groans when you say “ok everyone, 5 more minutes and then we’re going to move on” you would be completely familiar with the sounds we heard from this group of teachers!  They were so excited to continue working on their mini-altars, creating tiny bouquets of flowers out of modeling clay, cutting out tiny papel picado from construction paper, building stairways and platforms for their tiny clay loaves of bread to perch upon… these teachers were going to town! After the allotted time for hands-on activities had finished for the night David Temple took the group on a flashlight tour of the Hall of the Americas and the Paleontology Hall.  Then some teachers decided to call it a night, but others asked to be able to go back and work on their altars – how could we say no!?

By about 3 am, everyone had finally headed up to bed and then it seemed like only moments later I was waking everyone up for breakfast at 7 am! Just imagine, those teachers were up in time for school on Friday and still up at 3am on Saturday morning with plenty of energy – that’s absolutely incredible! I hope that they took their projects back to share with their students and spread the enthusiasm for Dia de los Muertos they shared with us at the Overnight!

Gel food coloring (found in the cake decorating section of cooking stores) is used to make the really vivid colors of royal icing!

Gel food coloring (found in the cake decorating section of any cooking store) is used to make the really vivid colors of royal icing!

This was the second Educator Overnight that we’ve had here at the HMNS, and I think we all agree that it was both a sucess and a lot of fun! We’ll be hosting our next Educator Overnight – Mummies, Tombs and Catacombs in April and registrations are already rolling in! If you’re not so excited to sleep in the Museum we also offer 3 hour ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesdays. The next one up is ‘Polymers!’ with Carolyn Leap which should be lots of fun too!
Want more info? The recipes we use to make sugar skulls and the icing to decorate them can be found online at Mexican Sugar Skull.com – they also have a lot of other cool Day of the Dead related items to check out.
I have included a few photos here and have posted more (with some closeups of finished sugar skull designs) on our HMNS Facebook page. If you want to become a fan of HMNS you can check them out!