Note: This post contains affiliate links. You may read my disclosure here.
The newly crowned Miss America 2020, Camille Schrier from Virginia, did a chemistry demonstration for her talent. It was an elaborate version of the classic elephant toothpaste experiment. This was the first time a Miss America participant has ever won with a science experiment for their talent.
Unfortunately, I have seen people criticize her talent as “something my elementary school kid can do” and “a simple science experiment”, but I think they are looking at it the wrong way. Yes, this is a simple science experiment, simple enough that I am presenting it in this post for your to try it with your toddlers and preschoolers. But, how could she do anything more complicated that would have as big of an impact in the short time period allowed? I think she did a fantastic job choosing an experiment that surely got many young girls interested and excited about science!
Camille has the knowledge to back her experiment too. She double majored in biochemistry and systems biology for her undergrad at Virginia Tech and is currently working towards her doctorate in Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the kind of role model we need to see more of for our daughters. She’s smart, talented, passionate about STEM, and beautiful. She is showing girls that they can like STEM subjects and be beautiful and girly too.
Below I’ll show you how to do a similar elephant toothpaste at home and wow your kids as much as Miss America wowed the crowd during her demonstration. But first…
Let’s talk about the science behind elephant toothpaste.
When I first heard about elephant toothpaste I had a few questions:
- Why is it called elephant toothpaste?
- How does it work?
- Is it safe to do at home?
In case you have the same questions, here’s my short answers:
- Why is it called elephant toothpaste? No, this isn’t really the same toothpaste zookeepers use on elephants’ teeth. It’s named this because when the reaction expands out of the bottle it looks kinda like toothpaste, especially if you add coloring to make stripes. But it’s much larger than toothpaste humans use on our teeth, it’s big enough for elephants! I love the cheekiness behind this creative name. 🙂
- How does it work? This experiment is the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to oxygen and water. There are two important scientific processes that make this experiment work: a catalyst and exothermic reaction.
-A catalyst is an element that speeds up a reaction. In this case the catalyst is the yeast. The yeast works as a catalyst to release oxygen molecules from the hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is breaking down into water (H2O) and oxygen (O2). As the oxygen releases and begins to travel out of the solution, it gets trapped in the dish soap creating the foamy bubbles.
-An exothermic reaction is a reaction that releases heat. The decomposition from hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen is exothermic, meaning it gives off heat. This means the foam (or “elephant toothpaste”) will be very hot after the experiment!
- Is it safe to do at home? Yes, as long as you closely follow my safety recommendations.
Want more information about elephant toothpaste and more experiment ideas? Here are a few helpful and informative resources about elephant toothpaste I found on the web:
Elephant Toothpaste Experiment
This is a great experiment for an adult to demonstrate to toddlers and preschoolers. If you have elementary school aged children who are good at following directions, they can attempt this experiment themselves with adult help and supervision.
It is very important to follow my safety instructions to prevent possible chemical or heat burns. 40 volume solution hydrogen peroxide can cause irritation and burns to the skin. Always wear gloves and safety googles when working with this solution.
The foam released in this reaction is hot. Do not touch it right away, wait a few minutes until it has cooled, then you and the children many touch it with gloves on.
If the hydrogen peroxide or the foam touches your skin, immediately wash it with soap and water.
Prepare a space for your experiment. Either do the experiment outside in the grass or on a sidewalk that can easily be washed down, or if doing inside put down a plastic tarp to cover your table and/or do the experiment inside a large disposable tray.
Clean up the experiment immediately after finishing so young kids can’t get into the hydrogen peroxide, and the yeast will start to smell if left out too long. It is safe to dispose of the experiment materials in the trash or wash it down your sink.
- Empty plastic 2L bottle (I suggest a 2L soda bottle, it worked much better than a 1L water bottle for us)
- Food coloring (optional, but recommended)
- Dish soap
- 4 oz (1/2 Cup) 40 volume/12% Hydrogen Peroxide (40 volume solution can be found on Amazon for ~$15, or it’s much cheaper > $5, at your local Sally Beauty Supply)
- Funnel (optional but recommended)
- 1 packet (1/2 Tbsp) of active dry yeast
- 4 oz (1/2 Cup) very warm water
- Small bowl
- Large disposable roaster pan or plastic tarp (optional but recommended – for easy clean up and disposal)
- Safety googles
- Plastic gloves
- Find a good spot to do your experiment. I recommend doing it outside on a patio or grass that can easily be hosed down, or in a large disposable tray that can easily be moved to the trash bin after the experiment is complete.
2. Set the bottle on a flat surface
3. Put on your gloves and safety goggles
4. Add a few squirts of dish soap to the bottom of the bottle
5. Measure 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide
6. Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the bottle (preferably using a funnel to avoid spills)
7. Gently swirl the dish soap and hydrogen peroxide together
8. Measure and pour 1/2 cup of very warm water into a small bowl
9. Add the yeast, and stir to dissolve it completely in the water (this is a great step to let your kids get involved)
10. Tilt the bottle to squirt food coloring in a steam along the slide, rotate the bottle and do this a few more times with different colors, as shown in the photo below
11. Pour the yeast mixture into the bottle (preferably using a funnel), remove the funnel and move back
12. Enjoy watching your elephant toothpaste foam out of the top of the bottle
13. After allowing the foam to cool for a few minutes, you and your kids may touch the foam with gloves on
14. Clean up the experiment by disposing of all materials or washing them in the sink (leaving gloves on until you have finished the clean up)
You and your kids witnessed an exothermic reaction. The yeast acted as a catalyst to speed up the release of oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide. The released oxygen got trapped in the dish soap and made awesome foam (aka the elephant toothpaste). The food coloring attached to foam making it look like the stripes that you sometimes see in toothpaste. The foam is hot because of the heat released in the reaction.
My kids were “wowed” by this spectacular experiment. I had to repeat my demonstration several times for them because they were so excited about it and wanted to watch it over and over again! I let them wear gloves and touch the foam – they were surprised by how hot it was!
Although this experiment may seem intimidating, I was surprised to find that after I gathered all the materials needed for the experiment, this was actually a very simple and quick experiment to perform. This made it easy to repeat over, and over, and over for my kids. 🙂
By doing exciting experiments like this one with our kids we are teaching them that science can be interesting, cool, and fun. They are learning science is for everyone.
Have you tried making elephant toothpaste before? I’d love to hear your experience and tips in the comments below!