Visiting Chicago this winter, we took advantage of the cold snow to talk about Arctic Animals, and how they are protected from the cold weather. We decided to do the classic “blubber” experiment, using the scientific method (which they have been learning recently!).
The Classic Blubber Experiment
The Scientific Method:
- Ask a Question
- Do Background Research
- Come up with a Hypothesis (Educated Guess!)
- Test your Hypothesis in an Experiment
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
- Communicate Your Results (from ScienceBuddies)
1. Ask a Question:
How can animals survive in the extreme temperature of the Arctic and Antarctica regions?
2. Do Background Research:
There are many animals that spend time in the frigid waters of the Arctic and around Antarctica that have a special layer of fat called “blubber:” whales (narwhals, belugas, orcas etc), seals, sea lions, elephant seals, walruses, polar bears, and even baby penguins. The blubber is right under the skin, and acts as an insulator. This means it holds in the warm-blooded mammals’ body heat, even when they are swimming in icy cold water as low as 40°. Read about blubber and more in the National Park Service’s excellent article that details specific arctic animals and their adaptations to the extreme weather.
Blubber is a layer of fat. If we try to mimic the layer of fat that arctic animals have, could we protect our hands from freezing snow?
3. Come Up with a Hypothesis:
We think that our homemade blubber (Crisco shortening!) will protect us from the cold temperatures from the snow. We think we can keep our bare hand on the snow for 1 minute and our hand protected in the blubber for 2 minutes in the snow.
To see if blubber would work for us, and insulate our heat, we replicated the classic blubber experiment. We scooped a bunch of Crisco into a baggie, and then put another baggie inside for our hand (to “protect” your hand from the greasiness- though feel free to just put your hand right in the shortening!). Smoosh and spread around the Crisco so you have a nice layer of blubber- fat- surrounding your hand. I have seen it where people use ziploc bags, and connect them so that no Crisco escapes- and I would recommend that if you are doing it with 20 wiggly preschoolers:).
Place your 2 hands (one protected, the other bare) on snow, or in a bucket of ice. Using a timer, see how long each hand can last in the cold temperatures. Here’s our chart:
|Bare hands ||Hands protected by “blubber”|
|Toñito: 45s||(didn’t want to stop but mommy got cold so we stopped timing at 5min)|
All of the kids could have stayed outside longer with the blubber mitten, if only we were dressed for the cold:). So in conclusion: blubber works!!! Of course, the blubber only protects the part of your body it is touching! My kids said “it’s perfectly warm!” “I can’t feel the snow at all,” “We should make snowsuits out of this!”
6. Communicate Your Results
We reported back to our family that blubber really helps animals stay warm when the weather is freezing cold. Everyone wanted blubber mittens when we played in the snow that week:).
Here is an excellent activity from National Geographic on Arctic Adaptations that includes a video and worksheet. It suggests that it’s appropriate for grades 6-8, but younger children can most definitely do the activity with their parents.
If you’ve got cold weather this time of year, make your own blubber mitten and see if you can break our records!:)