We often visualize science – chemistry especially – taking place in a laboratory filled with beakers and Bunsen burners. But really, you’ve got a chemistry lab right in your own home – the kitchen! There’s no better place for your kids to learn about chemistry than in a familiar environment and a great starting point is with starch.
Starches are a pretty common chemical in the kitchen; many foods we think of as “staples” are starchy ones – potatoes, pasta, cereals, rice – you get the picture. Here’s an awesome way to investigate starch at home: first you need to buy iodine from the pharmacy. Iodine is used to disinfect scrapes and cuts and you’ve probably noticed that it stains skin and clothes a distinctive yellow-brown colour. Take a dropper with some iodine in it and test small samples of foods in your kitchen: if starches are present (like in leftover pasta water), a drop of iodine will turn a deep blue-black. Try lots of things, but always remember that while starches are okay to eat, drug store iodine isn’t.
Now, let’s take a look at how our bodies handle starch. Our saliva contains a chemical, an enzyme called amylase, which breaks starch molecules into sugars. If you mix a drop of iodine with a teaspoon of starchy water and then add saliva (spit into it!), you’ll be amazed by the results.
If you’d like to see some other creatures’ digestion at work, come visit us in the afternoon and see our live worm compost bin! Or – for a truly awesome exploration of the entire human digestive system, stay tuned in late January for Grossology – The Impolite Science of the Human Body. It’s a science-in-disguise exhibit where kids get the answers to many of the slimy, oozy, crusty, stinky questions they absolutely want to know about the human body.