Cornstarch science: Making quicksand at home

SciPort has closed due to construction, but don't let that stop you from having fun with your kids learning about science. Steve helped Alan Brown, from SciPort, make quicksand this morning using only cornstarch and water.

This may just be the easiest, messiest, and most fun science activity that can be done at home. The cornstarch and water mixture acts like a solid sometimes and a liquid at other times. This concoction is an example of a suspension (a mixture of two substances), one of which is finely divided and dispersed in the other. In the case of the cornstarch quicksand, it’s a solid dispersed in a liquid.

Ingredients:

  • Cornstarch (a 16 oz. box is good for every 2-3 participants - but more is always better)
  • Water
  • Food coloring (It’s optional, but it does make it more fun)
  • A large bowl
  • Everyone should roll up their sleeves and prepare for some gooey fun.

Steps

  1. Pour the cornstarch into the bowl. Don’t rush to add water - take time to feel the cornstarch. Cornstarch does not feel like any other powder. It has a texture that can be compared to that of whipped cream. The grains of cornstarch are so small that they will fill into grooves of your fingerprints and make the prints stand out.
  2. After you’ve taken-in the feel of the powder, it is time to add water. There are no exact formulas regarding how much water to add, but it will end up being about 1/2 cup of water per cup of cornstarch. The secret is to add the water slowly and mix as you add it. 

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