Surprisingly fun science: Great success for Xperimania workshops

The Xperimania Science Ambassadors’ tour in spring 2010 reached nearly 400 students in schools across Europe. Both teachers and students were very happy with the science workshops: "I never thought chemistry could be so much fun," was how one participant summed up his experience.

“It's been a tremendous success. We had a really high demand for workshops and we saw that the students and teachers really enjoyed them,” said the Xperimania ambassadors. “The kids had the chance to really get messy and get their hands on the science.”

The Science Ambassadors wanted to show teachers and students easy and fun chemistry and physics experiments, and thus boost young people’s interest in science.

Each of the 18 workshops started with a short discussion about students’ preconceptions of science and whether they liked it or not. Then, to get a step deeper into the topic, the students were asked to name petrochemical products from their everyday life and their properties.

By investigating and testing a plastic glove that each student had received from the ambassadors, the students found out about some common properties of petrochemical products, such as elasticity, flexibility, durability, strength and transparency.

After that, the real fun started: the ambassadors had prepared six hands-on experiments, of which 3-4 were carried out in each workshop. The experiments followed a real scientific method, the OHERIC method of Observing, making Hypotheses, Experimenting, getting Results, Interpreting the results and drawing Conclusions.

Light stick

  • Properties: durability, flexibility, transparency, reactivity
  • Observe what happens when you bend a plastic stick with luminous chemicals inside. Does the plastic break? What happens to the liquid inside the stick?
Plastic is very durable and flexible, so it doesn’t break. Inside there is fragile glass separating the two liquids. When the stick is bent, the liquids mix and react and emit light.

Moving fish

  • Properties: water absorption
  • Observe what happens when a small fish made of a thin piece of cellophane is placed on your palm. Why does the fish move and curl around? Why doesn’t it move on the table?
The fish reacts to water, i.e. to the moisture of hands, and starts to curl around by lifting its head and tail. This happens because cellophane absorbs water.

Periodic table

  • Properties: heat sensitivity
  • Observe what happens when you touch the special paper with a periodic table. Why does the paper change colour and display the fingerprint? Does this happen if it is touched with a pen or a glove? Why does the fingerprint disappear after a while?
The periodic tables are made of a heat sensitive paper which reacts to the warmth of the body, or a heater, by changing colour.

Magic bracelet

  • Properties: light sensitivity
  • Observe what happens when a bracelet made of white beads is taken outside. Why does the bracelet change colour? Why do the beads turn white when taken back to the classroom?
The beads contain photochromatic dyes. Their molecular shape changes with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light caught from the sun, changing the colour. The beads also change colour on a cloudy day, which proves that the clouds don’t totally block the UV light.

Making snow

  • Properties: water absorption
  • Find out why nappies keep baby’s pants dry. Observe what is inside a nappy and how it reacts to water. What is the white powder found in a nappy? What happened to the water when mixed with the powder?
The white powder inside a baby nappy is one sort of polymer, sodium polyacrylate. It absorbs water and turns it to a solid substance. The same chemical is used to make artificial snow for Hollywood movies.

Growing dinosaur

  • Properties: water absorption
  • Observe what happens when the plastic dinosaur is placed in water. What makes the dinosaur grow?
The dinosaur is made of a polyacrylamide polymer which absorbs water. This makes the dinosaur expand by about 600% in water. If removed from water, the beast will dry and shrink back to its original size.

Both the teachers and students were very excited about the ambassadors’ visit:

“My class was really fired up, they really enjoyed it,“ said one of the teachers.

“[The experiments were] simple things that we can bring in and do ourselves and hopefully more children will get to experience the excitement.”

“It was a lot more fun today [than in normal science classes] 'cause we did actual chemistry,” said one of the students attending a workshop in Birmingham.

“With experiments, you start trying new things and it all becomes a surprise!”

Quotes from the Xperimania video published in summer 2010.

About Xperimania Science Ambassadors

Altogether 432 schools from 24 countries applied for the science workshops organised by the Xperimania ambassadors. An international jury selected six schools which the ambassadors visited from February to June 2010. In addition, a pilot workshop was organized in one extra school.

Visited schools:

  • Portugal: E.B. 2,3 de Alcanede in Alcanede
  • Romania: Traian Vuia in Maramures
  • Slovenia: Osnovna šola heroja Janeza Hribarja in Stari trg pri Ložu
  • Spain: IES J. Ibáñez Martín in Lorca (pilot school)
  • United Kingdom: Bartley Green School, St Francis Primary School and Highters Heath Community School in Birmingham


  • Àgueda Gras-Velázquez
  • Alexa Joyce
  • Lidia Minza
  • Barbara Schwarzenbacher
  • Johanna Snellman
  • Jacqueline Strypstein
  • Ann Whent

Further information about the workshops: