Weird Science

It really has been a while between blogs.   I know this because quite a few people have been asking me how my blogging is going (ie. they have noticed that it’s not going).  And my stock-standard answer is to blame the silly season, which appears to to kick off earlier every year.

In 2013, I managed to convince myself by the last week of November that Christmas was imminent, and that I had already failed miserably on the planning and shopping front.  And as I do most years, I promptly started waking up at 3am with a compulsion to write lists.

Is it marketing?  Well it doesn’t help when Christmas decorations and ads start to appear during October.  I certainly hold partially responsible those infuriating people who finish their Christmas shopping during November, and then feel the need to announce it on social media (you know the ones).  But I also feel that life just gets incrementally busier for me every year.

And so, in logical sequence, I decided that we would throw a Mad Scientist themed party at home in December for my almost seven-year old daughter.   You’ve heard the saying: if you want something done, ask a busy person!

Well I would like to declare, in hindsight, that if I’m the busy person you’re asking, best think again.  It appears that I’m not one of those people who thrives on being ridiculously busy.  Allow me to illustrate the case in point:

A few weeks ago, for my daughter’s school lunch Christmas party, I presented her with a selection of left-over jubes on a disposable plate.

I was so exhausted and creatively stunted by the relentless party planning and final execution the day before, that a plate of jubes was about all I could muster.  It was technically admissible, being a sweet (L-Z were to bring a sweet food), and being arranged into thirds according to colour (her class was to present their plate in 1/3’s fraction).  Way to go mum.  Really out of the box.

I think a little part of me died that day, as I pulled the car to a halt outside school, hastily rearranged the jumbled up jubes, gave her a squeeze and propelled her toward the gate. There was no way I was walking her into class with that sorry offering.

So why the elaborate, at-home, science-themed birthday party?

We naively gave over the choice of party to my daughter (I even encouraged the home party, in the deluded thinking that it may save money), and were quite chuffed when she chose the gender-neutral theme of ‘science’.  I was quietly overjoyed at the absence of fairies and princesses, and the fact that she wanted to invite a few boys from her class.  I didn’t quite appreciate that it would take on a life of its own.

Just Google ‘science party’, and you’ll see what I mean.

This is the point where I diverged from what my husband, my daughter and her friends would have found acceptable, and elevated things to the next level.  I began trawling the internet nightly for protective eyewear, petri dishes and test tubes.  I drifted off to sleep at night dreaming about child-sized lab coats.

All I can suggest is that I was overcome by a kind of party-force, fuelled by equal parts pent-up creativity, a tendency for perfectionism and the egging on from a close friend who moonlights as a party planner.  The perfect storm.

Needless to say, my husband wasn’t overcome in quite the same fashion.  His exasperated expression, evident whenever I gently enquired regarding his progress with the name badges said: What are you on about?!  We’ll set off a few Coke geysers sing happy birthday, and then they’ll all eat some cake and go home.  I believe I was also told not to ‘overthink’ things.  Humph.

So as you can imagine, by the time the party day came around, there was a fair amount of angst in the household.  Particularly so when, an hour before kickoff, my husband decided that tipping the kids entire Lego collection onto the lounge room floor and building an electric circuit that would light a bulb, should take precedence over helping me set up the actual party and experiments outside.  You can possibly imagine the look on my face (which would be quite amusing now in retrospect), and the choice words muttered under my breath, as I literally raced around the house, running sheet in hand.

But if I fast-forward to present day, post party, post Christmas, I am overjoyed to report that:

  1. Despite the urge to do so, I did not rip my running sheet into shreds and insert them forcibly into any of my husband’s orifices.
  2. We’re still married, and
  3. The kids had an awesome time.

And so, I thought I’d take the time to chronicle the bits that went swimmingly, the bits that totally tanked, and some shortcuts for anyone else out there looking to throw a science party.

And yes, okay, I am also writing this to boast about my newly discovered party planning skills and MAD NOVELTY CAKE BAKING SKILLS.  Indulge me – I’m still harbouring post-party delusions of grandeur.1461109_10152109717889265_1648075115_n

Now let me tell you about science party paraphernalia.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that one size fits all disposable lab coats are not made for seven year-old children.  Amusingly, it turns out that ‘one size fits all’ equates to XXL, and when we opened the package and my daughter tried one on, it was simultaneously panic-inducing and hilarious.

After another week and many fruitless internet searches, I happened upon the idea of creating lab coats from oversized white t-shirts, simply cut down the middle.  Thank you blogiverse, and unknown science-party blogger.  A few clicks and a few days later, I was safely in possession of a box of ‘lab coats’.

Photo 15-12-2013 2 52 08 am


During the earlier stages of planning (before my husband had decided I’d gone quite loco) he created these uber-cool name tags, based around the periodic table.  Did we blatantly rip off the idea from the Breaking Bad credits?  Yes we did.  But children don’t watch Breaking Bad, so no copy write problems there.


And seeing as we were going down the Breaking Bad road, I couldn’t resist this Jesse-inspired t-shirt, for the Daddy-turned-science-party-facilitator.


We used the same name tags on the zippy pouch party bags (discovered during one of my many $2 shop hit-and-runs), and filled them each with a note-pad and pen, goggles, test tube lollies, popping candy and rock sugar candy (which did look worryingly like elicit street drugs).   Photo 15-12-2013 2 52 34 am988797_10152109718159265_1772079339_n (1)

On the lunch menu were mini frankfurts in specimen cups, petri jellies, fruit molecules and jelly-cream beakers.  1506773_10152109717459265_1290934904_n Photo 15-12-2013 2 52 26 am

Less photographically impressive, but none-the-less well received were the party-girl’s specific requests: party pies and sausage rolls.  Apparently it is not a party without these items.

Do you like how I used a Sharpie on clear disposable plastic cups to create the mock beakers for the jelly cream concoctions?  I could claim artistic ingenuity, but in fact I unashamedly stole the idea from this excellent science party blog post.


And yes, more than one party attendant did point out their lack of uniformity in the scale department – who would have thought seven year-olds would be such sticklers for accuracy?

When you’re going to so much trouble for a party, I’d highly recommend asking someone to be there just to take photos of all your hard work.  In my case, my lovely friend Dawn, from Ruby May Designs not only helped arrange the party table, she also captured the details you see here, while I was quietly hyperventilating out of sight somewhere.

1487355_10152109718294265_713117097_n 1461756_10152109722444265_83989566_n


And now you’ve seen all the glossy photos, lets delve into the science party action and activities.  Especially the bits that didn’t quite go as planned.

Psychedelic milk.

I gleaned this idea from someone much more together than me, and practiced it before-hand with great success.  You can read her post, which provides detailed instructions and has fantastic photos of the colourful milk swirls that we were supposed to discover.  I would, however, like to add one small but salient point, which we discovered on the party day.

When you give 20 excitable children a bowl of milk, food colouring and a jar of cotton buds, their first instinct is (of course) to stir the colour in using the cotton buds.  In fact, even if you tell them NOT to stir it in, they will anyway.  They cannot physically restrain themselves from stirring the colour in.

Photo 15-12-2013 2 52 59 am

In retrospect, I would have had an adult demonstrate the process before allowing the children within a foot of the experiment table.  Then, if they still decided to stir in the frigging food dye, I could have said I told you so.

I don’t have many photos of our failed psychedelic milk experiment .  But if you would like to envision the scene, there were a lot of confused-looking children dressed in cute lab coats, and quite a few bowls of grey milk.

No problems.  We moved right along.

Mentos and Coke Geyser

Cue ‘Yeah Science’ Dad with a packet of Mentos and a 2L bottle of Pepsi Max.  He was quickly surrounded by 20 screaming children (I think at this stage they were screaming for Mentos, which I find odd, considering the amount of lollies in close proximity, which they could have helped themselves to at any time).   Using the purpose-made geyser tube I had picked up during my late-night internet trawling, he created a rather impressive fountain of foaming science-stuff, and was instantly elevated to Cool Dad status.

Photo 15-12-2013 4 30 30 am

Film canister rockets

These babies were a huge hit with the party-goers.  A friend gave me the hot tip – that I could get as many film canisters as I wanted, free from a local Photo processing shop. You add 1/2 Alka Seltzer tablet, a few teaspoons of water, quickly snap the lid on, invert the canister, and stand clear.P1070930


Elephant toothpaste

There are lots more impressive posts about this experiment, such as this one here.  Using a combination of yeast, warm water, hydrogen peroxide, dish detergent, and food dye (here we go again) you can produce foamy stuff which (apparently) resembles elephant’s toothpaste.

In this case, due to the potentially toxic nature of the hydrogen peroxide, and with the hindsight of the failed milk experiment, we decided use smaller groups of children with a significantly greater amount of supervision.


I’ll skip to the chase, and report that after much phaffing about with gloves and funnels, and a few tense moments, we did create some rather impressive elephant-toothpaste-like foam. Photo 15-12-2013 4 00 40 amPhoto 15-12-2013 4 02 58 am

Can you see the vivid hue of our experiment foam here?  Well that was exactly the colour of the children’s hands after they played with the foam.  Sorry parents, your child appears to be turning into a Smurf, starting at the hands.

Photo 15-12-2013 4 01 32 am

As is the way with childrens’ parties, everything took longer than expected, and quite a few of the planned activities never actually came to fruition.  We couldn’t be bothered in the end with the DIY lava lamps and lolly molecule making – by this stage the kids were happy to play with magnetic slime and magnets I purchased online.  They also enjoyed having a go at the Guinness World Record for number of seven year-olds to fit on a small round Springfree trampoline (at this point I realised that asking parents to sign a waiver upon dropping their child off may have been a good idea).P1070912

Photo 15-12-2013 3 15 06 am

The next thing to do was to sing happy birthday and cut the rather confronting creation you see below.  The brain cake.


Various terms used to describe it include ‘disgusting’, ‘gruesome’ and ‘revolting’.  For those who could get past the presentation and eat a slice, it was surprisingly tasty.

Photo 15-12-2013 4 32 15 am

If you’re interested in the detailed dirt on creating the brain cake, you can read my version here.

The children then commandeered the studio, transforming it into an underage rave for 20 screaming, sugar-fuelled children.  Yeah Science Dad became DJ daddy, who begrudgingly succumbed to the demands for Katy Perry and One Direction.  Interspersed with a science quiz and a few more rockets and Diet Coke geysers, that was pretty much a wrap.

In conclusion, I’d like to share the following observations:

  • Seven year-olds scream a lot when they’re excited.  In fact, the greater the numbers present, the louder the screaming and the higher the pitch.  We have concluded that in party terms, screaming is generally a good sign (given there have been no serious injuries of course).  Conversely, if all is quiet, it may mean that you have a boring party on your hands.
  • Twenty is rather a ridiculous number of guests to invite to a 7th birthday party, especially in the absence of any official party entertainer-type person.  And although such a party may guarantee your child a good month of popularity amongst their school friends, this should be weighed up against the potential strain on one’s marriage.
  • If you are lucky enough to have family to help, do rope your relatives into heating and serving the food.  This will ensure that the children actually get fed, as you run from one interrupted task to the next, in the manner of a strung out wedding planner.

But before signing off, I have one more thing to report.  Just a few days ago, while I was writing this post, my friend texted me some pretty awesome news.  When reviewing the year that was 2013, her son reported that the best thing that year had been…..

‘India’s science party’.  Bless him.

I’ll leave you with that thought, until my next party chronicle, which should be expected sometime in the vicinity of December, 2022, when I have recovered.


How I made a brain cake

This is the gooey, somewhat disturbing brain cake, which I made for my daughter’s science party last year.1002051_10152109719199265_237343688_n

It was a hit with the party girl, and those who were game to eat it.  Surprisingly simple compared to other cakes I’ve attempted – I thought I’d document the process.

1.  I cooked two round butter cakes during the week, wrapped them in cling film and froze them whilst still warm.

2.  I pulled the cakes out of the freezer the day before the party and set to work carving the rough oval shape of a brain (frozen cake is much easier to shape, as it doesn’t crumble or squash).P1070847

3.  I pasted the cakes together with frosting and then coated the outside well to disguise the join.  I used just over one tub of basic, Betty Crocker style vanilla frosting, coloured to a skin-like texture with food dye.


4.  I made the outer, noodly bits (correctly termed gyri, as a physiotherapist friend of mine pointed out) from packaged royal icing, or fondant.  I added a few smears of blue and red gel food dye to the white fondant block, and kneaded to the point that it was marbled with colour (rather than being thoroughly incorporated).  I then broke off small handfuls, rolled them into balls and then into long noodle shapes by hand.  The noodles were about the size of toothpaste squeezed out of a tube.

5.  I arranged the noodles into rough gyri-like squiggles and then stuck them directly onto the frosting.  The key to the realistic brain-look (thank you Pinterest) was the line directly down the centre of the brain, dividing the two hemispheres, and the rough symmetry of the squiggle arrangement on either side.  This bit was fun – I even let my daughter make a few noodles (for which I afforded myself a mental high-five, considering my harried, day-before-party disposition).


6.  Once complete, I covered the brain in lightly-greased cling film until the actual party day, to keep it from drying out.  Oh yes, and I also added a few eyeballs, made with left-over white fondant and (very old) black fondant, which I discovered at the back of the pantry.  A few left-over gyri attached to the back of the eyeballs sufficed as the optic nerve and muscle.P1070854

7.  On the day of the party I used a pastry brush to coat the brain in strawberry topping.  No need for precision here – I simply slopped it on.P1070859

8.  I realised an hour before the party that such a gooey creation was going to get rather insect-ridden and even more gross if left outside on the party table for any length of time.  So, in true last-minute fashion, I raced around to a neighbour’s house to borrow the fabulous cake stand with glass dome, for that authentic ‘specimen’ presentation.  Voila! Brain on a plate.1473036_10152109720904265_1969619952_n

If you’d like to see more of our mad science party action, you can read the full blog post here.