AUBURN – The day before a number of area fireworks displays, a different kind of explosion could be seen and heard in Logan County.
On Wednesday, Katie Tyson, a digital outreach coordinator with the Logan County Public Library, led three children through a process she called “explosion painting” in the parking lot of the Auburn branch.
Explosion painting involves mixing tempera paint with Alka-Seltzer in a film canister, which results in a forceful burst of color.
“When you mix the Alka-Seltzer with water, it produces carbon dioxide ... so as the gas expands, it pops the lid off,” she said.
The reaction caused the paint to burst forth, removing the lid from the canister with an audible pop and leaving a bubbling mess of paint on sheets of construction paper.
Tyson said she originally suggested explosion painting as a children’s activity the library could offer about three years ago.
“Explosions are fun. We want to get our kids in here. That’s our first goal, is to get them in here,” she said.
While she’s mainly involved with the library’s digital outreach, the self-described “science nerd” also frequently handles the science-based children’s activities the library offers.
Amid old rubbing alcohol bottles filled with bright tempera paint, a plastic bag full of Alka-Seltzer powder and a plethora of film canisters and thin brown canvases, Tyson sat on the sidewalk with three children ages 5, 6 and 8 in the shade of the library building, mixing their ingredients.
After she and the children squirted in the paint and carefully measured the Alka-Seltzer with teaspoons and tablespoons, Tyson led them to a place in the parking lot about a dozen paces from their work station and placed the canisters on their construction paper, lid down.
After a moment of waiting, a forceful pop rang out as the canister went flying, leaving behind paint splatters of various size and prompting excited laughter from the kids.
“What colors do you want next?” Tyson asked them. “We’re going to add more paint and see what happens.”
The kids took enthusiastically to mixing their ingredients, eyeballing the paint as they squirted it into their canisters and carefully measuring out the amounts of Alka-Seltzer.
Adding a larger amount of paint, to Tyson’s surprise, did not produce more powerful explosions or larger paint splatters.
“The ones without water that had so much paint in them just don’t fly like I expect them to,” she said. “You’d think with more paint it would have more power, but that wasn’t the case.”
Adding more water to the solution produced a more dramatic effect.
Several times, Tyson placed down a canister loaded with Alka-Seltzer, paint and water and found the explosion occurred almost immediately, rocketing the canister a good 8 feet into the air.
While explosion painting is fun for children, Tyson said it has the added benefit of teaching certain skills they often don’t learn in school or at home.
“We find that kids, these little ones just haven’t been picking up those basic skills like using scissors, which we didn’t do today but measuring things, putting the lids on those kinds of canisters,” she said. “They’re all basic skills that they don’t learn in school and some of them don’t pick up at home either so it’s basically tactile skills that they get to use here.”
Tyson said she was especially interested in teaching kids how to measure substances with teaspoons and tablespoons, put lids on containers and exercise safety precautions such as keeping the canisters away from their faces, because she has found children don’t often learn these things in direct, hands-on ways at school. She noted that the children who showed up for the explosion painting class Wednesday took to the physical tasks well.
“You’ll see parents taking the scissors out of their kids’ hands and doing it for them, and then they don’t learn how to do it. So this crew was good – they didn’t have that issue,” she said.