12 Awesome Earth Science Experiment Ideas For Classrooms or Projects

12 Awesome Earth Science Experiment Ideas For Classrooms or Projects

Earth science can be a lot of fun…or it can be incredibly boring!

Unlike chemistry and physics, demonstrating earth science phenomena requires a little more creativity than heading over to a lab and simply replicating the concept.

However, that’s what makes it all the more fun!

Having taught earth science, I know how hard it can be to make it fun for your students. These are 11 of my favorite experiments to do with my students – all of them will have them curious and most importantly enjoying the moment and learning!

Safety precautions

First and foremost, the most important thing to keep in mind before doing any science experiment is SAFETY.

Be sure to wear protective goggles for your eyes, and protective gloves when necessary.

We’re not dealing with dangerous chemicals in any of these experiments but protective eyewear is an absolute must in any case.

If young children are doing these experiments, be sure to supervise them!

1) Cloud in a bottle(credit)

Making a cloud in a bottle is really fun and exciting! It happens nearly instantly, too.

Why this is a great experiment: Cloud formation normally takes a long time – this experiment is a neat way for students to visualize this vital life-giving process. You’ll be able to see how water vapor condenses around aerosols to make a cloud.

Set up:

What you need:

  • A plastic soda bottle
  • A pump with a rubber seal
  • Some water
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • A match

Instructions:

Fill about half a cm or so of water in the bottle and swirl it around so it wets the bottom sides of the bottle.

Light a match, put it out, and hold it in the bottle so some smoke goes in.

Seal the bottle with the pump, and start pumping air into the bottle.

As you increase the pressure by pumping more air, you’ll find that the seal may want to pop off. Hold it in!

After 5-10 pumps, you have created a decent amount of pressure. Pull the seal off the bottle, and you’ll get a beautiful cloud inside the bottle!

You can also do this using rubbing alcohol(don’t use a match in this case). Rubbing alcohol evaporates faster, and may give you a denser cloud.

How it works:

When you increase the pressure, the water or alcohol vapor starts getting compressed and pushed together. When you release the pressure, the temperature inside the bottle drops slightly, allowing the vapor to expand and condense into a cloud.

A cloud is basically vapor condensed around dust/dirt particles in the air – by forcing the vapor to condense and providing something to condense around, we can make a cloud in a bottle!

2) Imploding can

This is one of my favorite experiments to do because it demonstrates the power of atmospheric pressure even though it is something we don’t feel every day.

Why this is a great experiment: Students can have a hard time visualizing and understanding how the atmosphere has weight and exerts pressure, especially since they can’t feel it/see it/or touch it. The force and speed at which the can – or a drum – whatever you have on you is crushed demonstrates the awe-inspiring amount of atmospheric pressure and makes you really appreciate how we are adapted to survive!

Set up:

This experiment is fairly straightforward. You need:

  • An empty soda can or water drum
  • A flame
  • Some water
  • A pair of tongs to handle hot objects
  • A bowl or bucket of ice water
  • Optional: a stopper

Instructions:

Fill about 1 cm of water into the soda can, and hold it over the flame until the water starts boiling and steam starts coming out of the opening.

Let steam come out for half a minute to one minute.

Before the steam runs out, quickly place the can upside down in the ice water(so the opening goes into the water).

In one or two seconds, the can will get crushed.

If you’re using a larger drum, then you can stopper the drum after a minute or so, and start pouring the ice water on top of the drum.

The drum will also implode.

How it works

As the water boils, the steam will begin to push out any air inside the can, reducing the pressure inside the can compared to the outside. Once enough air has been pushed out, the pressure will be significantly lower. The can is still very hot, so the molecules are still very energized – which is creating some extra pressure on the inside.

When you cool down the can with water, the pressure drops, and since there is no longer anything inside the can to counter the atmospheric pressure, the can is crushed, often with a bang!

3) Pulling apart two hemispheres

This is another awesome experiment to show how much pressure the atmosphere actually exerts. The principle behind it is really simple, since it shows how every day suction cups work, too.

Why this is a great experiment: Otto von Geuricke, a German scientist, was the first person to do this experiment to demonstrate atmospheric pressure. He tried to use horses to pull the two hemispheres apart, but even they could not do it. Have your students/visitors try pulling apart the spheres!

Set up

What you need:

  • Two hemispheres(any rigid material such as plastic or metal) with mating, rubber-sealed rims so they fix into one another. (Find it on Amazon here)
  • A vacuum cleaner or pump to suck out the air from in between
  • Volunteers to try to pull the spheres apart!

Instructions

Fix the two hemispheres together, then insert a vacuum hose or a pump into the hemispheres and proceed to suck the air out.

Once all the air has been evacuated, seal the inlet hole, and now ask your students to try and pull the hemispheres apart.

How it works

When there is air inside the hemispheres, the pressure inside and the pressure outside is the same, so there is no net pressure being exerted anywhere. It is easy to pull the hemispheres apart.

Once the air from the inside has been evacuated completely(or even partially), the pressure on the outside increases and is greater than the pressure on the inside, so the hemispheres are pushed together by the entire weight of the atmosphere!

When you try to pull the spheres apart, you’re going up against the collective pressure of the atmosphere.

Once you let air back into the spheres and the pressure equalizes, the two spheres will come apart easily.

4) Sedimentary rocks with bread(credit)

Sedimentary rocks are a huge part of earth’s geological processes – and rocks can get boring!

Why this is a great experiment: To make things like rocks more appealing to students, this simple experiment can demonstrate how sedimentation works and how sedimentary rocks are formed.

Set up:

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Slices of white bread(as many as you want, at least 2)
  • Slices of brown bread(as many as you want, at least 2)
  • Wax paper
  • A ruler
  • Books (preferably heavy)

Instructions:

Lay a piece of wax paper on a surface.

Cut the crusts off your slices of bread, and begin stacking them alternately.

Once your slices have been stacked, measure their height, then place another piece of wax paper on top, and put as many books as you can balance. You want to try and create a lot of weight.

Leave it be for one week.

After one week, remove the books and measure the bread again. You will see that the bread has become a lot more compressed, and you can see the layers of white and brown bread in between.

How it works:

This experiment demonstrates how sedimentary rocks form. Each year, millions and millions of tons of sediment are deposited on the ocean floor. As new sediment comes, the bottom sediment starts compressing due to the weight of the top layers, and water is squeezed out.

Over time, the sediments harden into rocks. If you break a sedimentary rock open, you would be able to see the individual layers to a great extent.

You can modify this experiment by changing the amount of weight you place on the slices and the time you place it for.

5) Acid rain (credit)

Acid rain is a real problem thanks to CO2 emissions. It damages statues and buildings, and can even cause harm to crops.

Why this is a great experiment: The striking results of the experiment will help demonstrate the gravity of the situation to students.

Set up:

What you’ll need:

  • Blackboard chalk
  • Eyedropper
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • (optional) a knife
  • Measuring cup
  • Marker
  • 4 plastic cups

Instructions:

To start, make sure that the chalk reacts with vinegar by putting a few drops of it on the chalk. You should see little bubbles form.

Number your four cups from 1 to 4.

In cup 1, mix one tsp vinegar with 1 cup of water.

In cup 2, mix two tsp vinegar with 1 cup of water.

In cup 3, mix three tsp vinegar with 1 cup of water.

In cup 4, mix four tsp vinegar with 1 cup of water.

Place your four pieces of chalk(carve them up into any shape if you wish) into four plates, and number the plates, too.

Put 10 drops from cup 1 onto the first piece of chalk.

Put 10 drops from cup 2 onto the second piece of chalk.

Put 10 drops from cup 3 onto the third piece of chalk.

Put 10 drops from cup 4 onto the fourth piece of chalk.

Put some of the vinegar solution on the chalk twice a day for 5 days.

At the end of 5 days, observe how the chalk has changed.

How it works:

Chalk is made from calcite, which reacts with acids. In the reaction the chalk is also eaten away. Over a long period of continued acid rain, monuments made from marble(a form of calcite) and buildings made of limestone will be eaten away as the acid rain slowly dissolves them.

6) Why is the sky blue(credit)

The color of the sky is due to a phenomenon called refraction. Throughout the day, you’ll see the color of the sky change from orangeish-yellow to blue and back to orange-yellow. You can replicate this phenomenon in a glass!

Why this is a great experiment: You can use this experiment to demonstrate how light is refracted through particles in a liquid(which behaves similar to how particles are refracted through particles in a solid).

Set up:

Requirements:

  • A glass
  • Some water
  • A bit of soap(liquid or bar, white is better)
  • A flashlight that emits white light

Instructions:

Mix some soap into a glass of water until the water is white and milky.

Place the flashlight or bulb near the glass.

Find the proper angle: once you look at the glass correctly, you’ll see that the liquid looks blue.

You can attempt to create variations by adding more soap to the water, or holding the bulb(and observing) at different angles.

How it works:

When light from the sun hits the atmosphere, it is scattered through a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering. The shorter wavelengths are scattered more, and blue/violet is scattered the most, which is why we perceive the sky as blue(not violet, because our eyes are more used to seeing blue than violet).

A similar process happens in colloids(liquids with solids in them). This process is called Tyndall Scattering.

7) Creating a spark of lightning(credit)

Lightning is static electricity: so the best way to demonstrate how lightning works is by generating and discharging some static electricity!

Why this is a great experiment: Lightning is incredibly powerful: hundreds of thousands of volts. Static electricity(everyday shocks at least) are harmless, even though they’re essentially the same thing. This experiment is a great way to inspire awe for mother nature.

Set up:

What you’ll need:

  • A balloon
  • A metal object(such as a spoon)

Instructions:

Inflate the balloon and rub it on your hair for two minutes.

Go into a dark room, and touch a spoon or metallic object to the balloon. You’ll see some sparks fly!

How it works:

By rubbing the balloon on your hair or on a piece of wool, you’re charging it up. By touching the metal spoon to the balloon, the opposite charge from the metal jumps towards the charges on the balloon, and the energy is discharged as a spark and electric shock.

Inside clouds, lightning forms when colliding particles of ice create a giant charge in the bottom of the cloud. When the charge at the bottom of the cloud meets an opposite charge from the ground, the energy is discharged in a brilliant flash of light and electricity we know as lightning.

8) Percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere

We’ve all been taught that oxygen is about 20-21% of the atmosphere, but how can we actually measure this? Where did we come up with this number?

You can do a controlled experiment to see how much oxygen there is in the atmosphere.

Why this is a great experiment: This experiment lets you visualize a fact that we’re taught from very early on, but perhaps did not give much thought to how we managed to measure such a number!

Set up:

Required materials:

  • A test tube
  • A plastic container or box
  • Some water
  • A hand warmer or some steel wool
  • Tape

Instructions:

Tape the hand warmer or steel wool to the bottom of the test tube.

Next, fill the container with water, and insert the test tube into the container upside down so the wool or hand warmer is at the top.

Measure the height from the current water level to the top of the test tube.

Over some time(it may take a few days), the water level will begin to rise. Once the water stops rising, measure the distance from the new water level to the top of the test tube.

You should find the difference is around 20%, or the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere!

How it works:

The steel wool/hand warmer reacts with oxygen in the test tube. As the oxygen is used up, water is pushed up the tube by air pressure on the outside to fill the vacant space up left by the oxygen.

This is a really neat experiment because it will also show air pressure at work, too!

9) Growing your own crystals (credit)

Crystals are fascinating and an integral part of mineral formation in the earth’s crust. There are LOTS of ways to grow crystals(I’ll cite videos below) but this is one of my favorites and makes the biggest crystals!

Why this is a great experiment: What’s cooler than to be able to make your own gem-like crystals? Kids will really enjoy using these crystals as decoration and ornaments.

Set up:

What you’re going to need:

  • Alum(potassium ferricyanide), can sometimes be found in a grocery store in the spices section
  • Clean jar
  • A saucer or petri dish
  • A pencil
  • Some taut string or fishing line

Instructions

In the beaker, add alum slowly to 1/4 cup of very hot water and stir to dissolve. Keep adding alum until it no longer dissolves. This means the solution is saturated.

Pour some of this solution into your petri dish and let it sit overnight. Use a filter when pouring so no solids or impurities go through.

You should see small crystals growing in the dish by the next day. When they’re a little bigger, pour off the solution from the dish, and choose the best crystal(biggest) from it.

Tie the crystal with your fishing line, and tie the other end of the fishing line to the string. You’ll use the pencil to balance the crystal in a solution in the next step.

Make another alum solution using 1/2 cup of water, and pour it into a beaker or jar – use a filter again if necessary to leave out undissolved material.

Place your pencil-fishing-line-crystal into the solution – use the pencil to balance on the rim of the beaker, and the crystal should be suspended right in the middle of the solution. Make sure it’s not touching the side or bottom of the beaker.

Bear in mind: If you see that the crystal is getting smaller instead of bigger, then it means the solution is not saturated enough. Remove the crystal, heat the solution, and dissolve more alum.

Cover with a towel or piece of paper to keep dirt out, and watch your crystal grow over the next few days.

Remove it from the solution once you are happy with its size, and dry it off with a towel.

How it works:

The crystallization process is called “nucleation”. Because the solution was saturated, as the solution cooled down, there was no longer enough space in the solution to keep the molecules dissolved, so they began to precipitate out. The molecules find one another and join up in a crystal pattern.

More and molecules join up until you see a crystal!

Even if there was no seed crystal, the molecules would eventually precipitate out, but the crystals would not be very visible because every molecule was trying to become a nucleus.

By introducing a seed crystal, most molecules would get attracted towards it and produce a nice and large crystal.

10) Convection currents

Convection currents are responsible for almost all atmospheric and water circulation.

Why this is a great experiment: This simple experiment demonstrates how convection currents work, and also shows how air is a fluid. It’s a two in one!

Set up:

What you need:

  • A large beaker
  • A smaller beaker that fits in the large beaker
  • A bit of plastic wrap
  • A rubber band
  • Food coloring of your choice
  • A knife

Instructions:

Fill the large beaker with cold water.

Fill the smaller beaker with hot water and add a few drops of food coloring, then mix well.

Cover the small beaker with plastic wrap and use the rubber band to seal it nice and tight.

Place the small beaker inside the large beaker, and using your knife, slit the plastic. One long slit should be enough.

The hot water will begin to rise and form convection currents.

How it works:

Hot water(and air) will rise. As the water rises, it is exposed to the colder water, so it also cools down. The cooler water then begins to sink, forming a large circular motion of going up, moving to the side as it gets colder and hits colder water, and sinking again.

Atmospheric convection currents work in the same way.

Here is a variation:

11) Solar water purifier(credit)

This is a great survival skill and also highlights one of the most important processes for life on earth: evaporation of seawater.

Why this is a great experiment: This is an excellent way for students to visualize how seawater evaporates – which leads to the ultimate formation of clouds. Plus it shows students how to distill water.

Set up:

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Large bowl
  • Short glass or beaker
  • Plastic wrap
  • Masking tape
  • A small weight such as a rock

Instructions:

Mix salt into two cups of water until it has dissolved, and pour the water-salt mixture into a large bowl.

Place the beaker in the middle of the bowl. The beaker should not come above the rim of the bowl, but it should be above the water level.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and seal the bowl as best as you can from the side – you can use tape if you need to.

Place the light weight on the plastic right above the beaker.

Now place the bowl outside in the sun for a few hours – or the entire day. You can even experiment to see how much time it takes to get how much water – but you’ll need to make sure the weather conditions are similar every day to control your variables.

Once you check again, you’ll see that there is water in the beaker. Taste it to see if it is salty or sweet.

How it works:

The water in the bowl was warmed by the sun, then it evaporated and became water vapor. The vapor rose up, hit the plastic, and condensed back into water droplets. The droplets followed the contour of the plastic created by the weight on top, and dripped into the glass.

Here’s another neat way to do it:

12) Stalactites and Stalagmites(credit)

Stalactites and stalagmites are an essential natural process in the formation of caves. If caves are not easily accessible where you live, this experiment can help you make a “mini” cave right at home or in the classroom!

Why this is a great experiment: While the principles in this experiment are very similar to those in the crystal growing experiment, this adds another factor of gravity!

Set up:

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Epsom salts
  • Water
  • A bowl or pot
  • 2 glasses
  • String or paper towel
  • Weight such as paper clips

Instructions:

Measure off one glass of water, pour it into the bowl, and start mixing in the epsom salts. You’ll need to mix in a LOT of salt and dissolve it to get this experiment to work, so you may find that heating the water as you mix makes it easier.

Divide the mixture between the two glasses.

Grab your piece of string, put a paperclip on both ends, and drop the ends in the glasses. The glasses should be close to one another, and there should be enough give in the string that it dips in the middle between the two glasses.

Over a few days, you should see your stalactites and stalagmites begin to form.

How it works:

Capillary action causes the water to flow up the string on both sides.

At the dip in the string, the water begins to form a drop. As this water evaporates, the epsom salt you dissolved in it earlier will start to precipitate out and form deposits.

1 thought on “12 Awesome Earth Science Experiment Ideas For Classrooms or Projects”

  1. Today, I went to the beach front with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

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