Friday, March 16, 2012

Can Butter Conduct Electricity? And Other Questions For Children From Burkina Faso

Turning back to our study of Africa, the children and I, joined by the Man of the House at lunchtime and in the evening, spent most or our day yesterday, lost in the cities and deserts of Burkina Faso, with Stephen Davies' teen thriller Outlaw.

In fact, we found the fast paced, action adventure trek through the political underbelly of the small west African nation is so riveting, I think we might actually have finished the entire two hundred and eighty some pages in a marathon family read-aloud session, if we hadn't gotten distracted midway through by a science experiment, we just had to try.

Jake, the 15 year old protagonist of the story, finds himself kidnapped, along with his 13 year old sister Kas, and hauled out to a remote location in the desert. Along the way, he manages to make a few frantic calls to his father, the British ambassador, before his cell battery goes dead. Out of cell range, but hoping for a rescue, the teen charges his phone using a couple of batteries from a flashlight, and some goat's milk butter.

In a "what is fact and what is fiction" section at the back of the book, that made my homeschool heart happy, the author sights a YouTube video on "How to Charge an Ipod with Batteries and Whipped Cream", as inspiration for the stunt.

We looked up the video, and then decided to do a little experimenting ourselves. In the book, Jake simply lays the batteries together on a metal plate (he'd been given to eat on)...

...shakes his goat milk in a handy gourd, until it turns into butter, slathers the butter over the batteries, and sticks his charger cord, connected to the his phone, right into the butter.

The YouTube video works pretty well the same way, except using whipped cream instead of butter, and a ceramic plate. I didn't want to risk a perfectly good charger cord with destruction by butter, so instead pulled out the odd bits and bobs we have left from old science kits, and chose a little motor, inserting the terminals right into the butter.

Nothing happened, even when we tried upping the juice with four AAs in our Leapster's battery pack.

We remembered we've had luck in the past, running electrical current through a bit of playdough, so we set up a control experiment, using playdough to complete a circuit between our battery pack and a small, but loud, buzzer. The playdough worked perfectly.

The butter however did not. We tried it with salted, unsalted, melted, and hard butter, and on a nonconducting plate...

...verses a conducting spoon. And while the spoon alone could be used to complete our circuit, we just couldn't get the butter (or whipped cream, which we also tried) to conduct a current.

The closest we came to the feat of the book, was using buttermilk (left over from our Irish soda bread), with about tablespoon of salt added in.

Jake's goat butter might have been more buttermilk than butter, but there's no mention of him adding any salt, so we're filing that page of the book under pure, but really fun, fiction, and moving on. The rest of the story is filled with enough techno babble, teen terminology and African geo-politics to keep us happily busy, at least until we can get to the library for the next Stephen Davies teen novel - which I believe is set in Mali.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Linked with:


Science Sunday


Ticia said...

That sounds like an incredibly cool book. I would never have thought to make it a read aloud.

Kendra said...

Hmm.. we use to raise goats for milk when I was a child. We had people ask for milk because goat's milk is known to ease the pain and problems of stomach ulcers, eczema, and other odd things. I wonder if the make up of goats milk is THAT different. We can get goats milk in our local grocery & we might just have to try this..

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Kendra - I think it's the fat in the butter or whipped cream that keeps it from conducting electricity - so I don't think the type of milk would make a difference - but it would be fun to check out!

Ticia - A freak wind storm left us without power for a couple of hours, so I grabbed the first book handy, to keep everyone from climbing the walls. The author was some sort of missionary, so I figured the content would probably be family friendly enough - and it seems to be.

Phyllis said...

Interesting. I also find much of stories, is just, well, fiction. :)

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I was thinking that maybe goat milk is more acidic and that helps somehow. What would happen if you added vinegar to butter? Very interesting experiment and thanks for joining WMCIR!

MaryAnne said...

I don't see how electricity could pass through butter - goat milk is quite different, but I don't know the details of how!

Books4Learning said...

What a cool post! First, I am thrilled to hear about children engrossed in literature. Second, I love how you make a science lesson out of it!

Anonymous said...

Today I found myself wondering this same thing when I submerged my cell phone in clarified butter.