Family Life


3 min Read

Turn your kitchen into a science lab

You want to introduce your kids to
the wonders of science, so you plan
a trip to your local science centre for
a day of exploration. When the day
comes to an end, all the fascination
and inquisitiveness that the excursion
sparked in your children’s minds is
put on hold until the next field trip.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We are surrounded by science every
day of our lives, and nowhere is that
more evident than in the kitchen.
Food is one of the most tangible and
accessible gateways to the world
of science that we can offer our

“Everyday stuff is not so every
day, it’s really quite wonderful,” says
David Sugarman, senior researcher
at the Ontario Science Centre. “All
cooking involves science.”

If your kids under eight are
not quite ready to be sous-chefs,
or if they need a little nudge to be
inspired in the science lab, David
suggests these simple experiments
using common household items that
are sure to dazzle.

Check out David Sugarman perform these experiments.

Onion tears

You’ll need:

  • 1 onion
  • Ski or swim goggles
  • Tap water


  • Cut the onion in three pieces. (You
    can precut it and help your child use a
    regular knife.)
  • Cut the onion in three different ways,
    leaving some time between each:
    Without goggles; cutting the onion
    under water without goggles; wearing
    the goggles.

What’s happening? Onions release compounds that irritate eyes to
the point of tears. The goggles prevent the compounds from affecting
the eyes, while cutting under water prevents the compounds from being
released into the air and irritating the eyes.

At McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, a department devoted to
demystifying science, founding member Dr. Ariel Fenster has given numerous
lectures on cooking with science. This is one of his experiments.

Acid indicator

You’ll need:

  • Torn-up red cabbage leaf
  • 1 cup hot tap water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ammonia, such as
    window cleaning solution


  • Soak the red cabbage leaf in the hot
    water for 30 minutes. The water will turn
    blue. Divide the liquid into three cups.
  • Add lemon juice to one cup. The liquid
    will turn pink.
  • Add window cleaner to the other cup.
    The liquid will turn green.

What’s happening? Lemon juice is an acid.
Ammonia (in the window cleaner) is the opposite –
a base. The pigments in red cabbage are sensitive
to both acids and bases. This means the colouring
of the cabbage adapts to outside influences.
Recipes for cooked red cabbage often call for
some lemon juice or vinegar to preserve the red or
pink colour during cooking.

Hot air balloon

You’ll need:

  • 1 narrow-necked bottle
  • 1 package quick-acting yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
    • About 1 cup hot water (60°C)
  • A bowl larger than the bottle


  • Place the water, sugar and yeast in
    the bottle and swirl together.
  • Stand the bottle in the larger
    bowl of hot water.
  • Stretch the un-inflated balloon
    over the top of the pop bottle.
  • After about 10 minutes, the
    balloon starts to inflate!

What’s happening? Dry yeast is
in suspended animation. The sugar
in the water is essentially food for
the yeast. As the yeast consumes
the sugar, it gives off carbon dioxide
bubbles. These bubbles are infl ating
the balloon…or more commonly, the
bubbles are what make bread rise.

Moms Andrea and Lianne cofounded and co-host Parents Talk on Rogers TV. Together they have produced several award-winning parenting DVDs and web videos.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2012.

a man carrying two children

Related Articles