In our mobile electronic world, batteries are an essential technology, and attempts to improve battery efficiency is one of the cutting edges of modern science. However, how many of us know how batteries actually work? Well, this simple experiment not only allows you to make your own battery, but it also helps explain exactly how a battery (and indeed electricity in general) works. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this experiment is that you are likely to already have everything you need to make a fully functional battery already in your house!
What Will You Need? To do this experiment, you will need the following items (and make sure you have them all before starting to do the experiment with your child):
- Three, or more, pennies (the more pennies you use, the more powerful the battery will be).
- A sheet of rough sandpaper.
- A bottle of distilled malt vinegar.
- A sheet of aluminium foil.
- A small sheet of corrugated cardboard (the type of box that items from Amazon get delivered in is perfect for this!).
- A set of zinc washers (optional, but using zinc washers means that you do not need to sandpaper any of the pennies down, and it means the experiment will work with any pennies and not just newer ones).
- Some wire (ideally electrical wire, but if you don’t have any, then the wire from an old set of head phones, gardening wire, or even twist ties with a metal core will do).
- A small LED bulb (such as the kind often found in modern flash lights) and/or a small cheap calculator.
- A pair of scissors (for cutting the cardboard and the wire);
- Some electrical tape (for wrapping round the battery once you have made it).
How Long Will It Take? Typically, it will take between five and ten minutes to complete the first part of this experiment (making a battery to light up an LED light bulb). However, preparation is everything, so make sure you have all the items you will need to hand before you start this experiment. If you are not particularly practically minded yourself, make sure that you have watched the instructional video in full before you try to do this with your child so that you understand exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.
What Age Of Child Can Do This Experiment? This experiment is best suited to children of around seven and older. Children younger than this are unlikely to have enough of a grasp of electricity to appreciate what is happening. Children at the younger end of this age range will need to be supervised, but older children will be able to do it themselves (although you will still want to keep a careful eye on them while they do it!)
How Does It Work? When you do this experiment, your child will almost certainly want to know how it works. Basically, it involves electrons flowing between two different types of metal (in this case zinc and copper) through the vinegar (which acts as an electrolyte to allow the electrons to move through it). The electrons can only flow when the circuit is completed, so this causes them to move along the wires and through the bulb, causing it to light up. You can find more information about how batteries work here, and I would recommend reading up on it before doing the experiment so that you are better prepared to answer any questions!
What Core Life Skills Will It Help Develop? This experiment will help you child develop an understanding how the world around them works, and specifically of how electricity works. They will also develop important practical skills by learning how to make an item they see and use every day from its raw materials and how to build things from everyday household items. This will encourage them to see such items not as ‘black boxes’, but as functional items that they have an understanding of how they work.
Variations: There are many possible variations on the basic experiment. In particular, I prefer the option of using zinc washers rather than having to sand down the pennies which will be used in the battery as it is quicker and less messy. Adding more pennies to the stack will increase the power output, and you can try to power lots of different items, such as the calculator mentioned at the end of this video. One particularly good one to try is to get a small LED clock and use your battery to power it.
Links To Purchasing Items You Will Need For This Experiment
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.
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