Loralee Leavitt is a return guest for Friend Friday -- all because instead of eating all the candy that comes into her house, she goes all mad scientist on it. I think there's a lesson to be learned there! Welcome, Loralee.
“Mom, what would happen if I put my Nerds in water?” This question, asked by my four-year-old daughter, launched our family into years of crazy candy experiments. We were so excited to share the fun that we created a website at www.candyexperiments.com, taught kids our experiments at national science fairs, and published a book, Candy Experiments.
After the book came out, I thought I might be done with candy experiments. After all, I’d already dissolved candy, smashed candy, microwaved candy, melted candy, frozen candy, and destroyed candy in every other way I could think of. I’d sunk marshmallows, separated M&M brown into rainbows of color, turned gummi worms into gummi snakes, and made Pixy Stix crystals that seemed to explode out of their bowl. Was there more I could add?
For any writer, it’s the questions that lead the way. In fiction, I’ve chased questions like “How did all this scotch broom get to Spain?” “How can I write a ghost story without a ghost?” “What if the twelve dancing princesses were really basketball-playing princes?” When I’m writing about candy experiments, I try to solve problems like, “Why doesn’t the gummi frog float until it’s been in water for two days?” “How can I sever a piece of licorice without touching it?” “Why do Mentos make better geysers than any other kind of candy?” Each question leads to new research, and new solutions. In some ways, each question forms its own tiny story.
Even after my book was published, candy questions kept coming. If I skewered some different colored Peeps, would I get rainbow of sinking sugar dyes? (No.) If I froze Cadbury Eggs with dry ice, could I shatter them with a hammer? (Yes.) Why did chocolate turn a lighter color in water? What could I do with xylitol? What would Pop Rocks in the oven? In oil? In oil and water? I jotted my questions down on a list, and experimented occasionally. So, when my publisher requested a new book--and needed it soon--I was ready.
While my list of questions made a great starting point, new candy play led to new experiments. An experiment on dissolving candy in different solutions led to the surprising discovery that some red gummi worms turn blue in baking soda water. A bag of peach gummi rings left in a hot car melted into a solid mass with a layer of marshmallow on the top, from which I learned that I could heat a gummi ring and make it “flip over” without even touching it. When I microwaved a Twizzler’s licorice stick, warts popped out all over. Each crazy new discovery made me ask more questions, and want the answers!
As a mother of four kids, I worried that the book would be an impossible project. But I had a lot of help. My kids tried experiments for me, and were recruited as “hand models” in photos. A friend came over to help me record data and take photos, with each of us juggling a baby. My husband researched xylitol-water ratios to create a supersaturated solution that crystallized almost instantly when stirred. My dad photographed Mentos under a microscope to show the tiny pits where bubbles form in Mentos-Coke geysers. Meanwhile, I experimented, researched, and wrote like a madwoman. Somehow, it all came together on time.
Even as I celebrate the publication of Candy Experiments 2, new questions pop up. Would a piece of “jiggler” finger jello absorb as much water as a gummi worm? Does dissolving candy in water affect the surface tension? Do different sodas have different surface tension? Could I sink something in soda that I can’t sink in water? How many more experiments are waiting for me?
After all, you never know where a question will lead.
Loralee Leavitt is the author of Candy Experiments and Candy Experiments 2, books of crazy experiments that help kids learn science as they destroy candy. Her four children are invaluable co-contributors. She is also the co-author of Road Tripping: A Parent's Guide to Planning and Surviving the Annual Car Trip.