Our first experiment was to find the DNA of a banana. Yes, you can actually do this right in your own kitchen, and it can even be done without the use of a microscope. I found this experiment on the neat Scientific American web site, which has a number of cool looking experiments that you can easily do at home with common objects. We gathered up our supplies–a banana, hot water, salt, dish soap, rubbing alcohol, a baggie, a coffee filter, and a glass. By now I had a few sips of coffee and the sleepiness was out of my eyes, and I was matching my son’s excitement. We mashed, measured, mixed, poured, and then waited. After about 8 to 10 minutes we started to see this stringy substance in the glass. This is the banana’s DNA. It was interesting how each material (the soap, the salt, and the rubbing alcohol) plays a role in extracting the DNA from the banana. The one thing that I wish we would have done was to put some of this DNA onto a slide to try to see more details of it under our microscope–we’ll have to do this next time. Overall, this was a pretty cool experiment to show some pretty big ideas about cells, DNA, genetics, and how many living things are really similar to each other by being made up of the same basic material.
My son’s enthusiasm didn’t wane after this first experiment, and he dove right into another experiment from a book we brought home from the library called, Awesome Ocean Science by Cindy A Littlefield. He found an experiment in the book on how to simulate clean-up after an oil spill. He gathered up the necessary materials and started in on creating an oil spill in a pan (pouring veggie oil in a baking pan full of water). Then he proceeded to make a boom out of straws and string and tried to contain the oil spill. After containing it (or trying to), he attempted to recover the oil from the water using cotton balls, a spoon, and finally some corn starch. I sat by watching him take charge of this experiment and listened to him discuss his results with me (the corn starch worked best to cling to the oil and then allowed you to remove it a bit easier than without the corn starch, but it still didn’t get all of the oil out by any means). Again, this was a fun experiment using common day items that really illustrated some important concepts. From this experiment we then talked a bit about fossil fuels, drilling in the oceans, and recent oil spills that have occurred and the impact this has on the environment, animals, and people.
After cleaning up our experiments, I poured myself a second cup of coffee. It was a great way to start the day.