Spooky Science - Text Only Version

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Two Ghosthunters have just arrived at the Spooky Science haunted house which is crammed full of strange looking objects.

Mike Lemon: 'What is this place? It's giving me the creeps. I think it's haunted!!'

Matt Orange: 'Hmm, looks like there's some odd things going on here - but I don't think it's ghosts. Let's take a closer look at each object to find out what's really happening.'


Ghost in Mirror

Did you just see a ghost? Or maybe there's more to it than meets the eye...

This clever trick uses a one way mirror - a sheet of glass with a very shiny silver film stuck on one side - and a secret room. With a bright light in front of the mirror the only thing staring back at you is your own reflection. But when a bright light is switched on in the secret room, the ghostly image of a hidden person is revealed as the 'mirror' becomes transparent.

Find related websites about reflections in mirrors with physics.org

Frozen Shadows

What's that on the wall? Shadows can't freeze, can they?

The wall is covered in a type of plastic that glows in the dark - a bit like the glow stars that you can stick on your ceiling. The plastic absorbs light that hits it and then slowly re-emits it.

By standing in front of the wall, you stop some of the light from hitting it. When you move away you leave a scary silhouette behind!

Some emergency exit signs are made from the same plastic, so next time you spot one, see if you can leave a spooky handprint on it.

Find related websites about things which glow in the dark with physics.org

Floating Eyeball

It's staring right at you... so why can't you pick up this gruesome eyeball?

It's all done with mirrors. The eyeball looks like it's floating in mid air, but it's really sitting at the bottom of two curved mirrors. The mirrors reflect the light so that an image of the eyeball forms just above the hole in the top mirror.

Next time you see a magic trick and can't work out how it's done, look very closely and you might just glimpse a mirror or two.

Find related websites about reflections with physics.org

Van de Graaff Generator

Don't be frightened! The Van de Graaff generator might be hair-raising, but it's not scary.

The dome of the generator becomes positively charged as the rubber belt rubs between two sets of metal combs. Like charges repel each other so light things, such as the hairs on your head, are pushed apart.

Try this yourself next time you're at a birthday party. Grab a balloon and rub it against your jumper. This will build up a static charge. Now find someone with long hair and hold it above their head... their hair will stand on end!

Find related websites about static electricity with physics.org

Shepard Tones

Do you believe what you're hearing? Is that one note really getting lower and lower and lower?

What you're actually hearing is a whole bunch of notes falling together. The note you're concentrating on gradually gets quieter and fades out. As it fades your brain finds another note to concentrate on without you noticing, so it sounds like it's just one continuously descending note. After a time you may notice the jump as your brain readjusts - a sure sign that it's all in your head.

Find related websites on sound illusions with physics.org

Foaming Pumpkin

Urgh... is that pumpkin brain spurting out of the pumpkin? No, it's only shaving foam!

The pumpkin head has been filled with shaving foam and placed inside a bell jar - a strong container that can withstand a vacuum. As the air is pumped out of the jar the foam spookily starts spewing out.

Shaving foam is made of lots of tiny bubbles of gas. Lowering the air pressure in the bell jar means that the pressure inside these bubbles becomes higher than the pressure around them. So the bubbles stretch, causing the foam to expand and squirt out of the pumpkin head.

Find related websites about air pressure here

Find related websites about reflections with physics.org

Swirling Spiral

Stare at the spiral for 30 seconds and then look at the back of your hand. Is your skin crawling?

Staring at the swirling spiral affects your eye muscles, pulling your vision towards the centre. When you look at your hand, your eyes relax, making things look like they are moving the opposite way to the spiral.

Next time you watch EastEnders, concentrate on the spinning map in the opening credits. When it stops spinning does it look like it is moving back the other way? Test it out with your household - see who notices the effect!

Find related websites on optical illusions physics.org

Seat of Nails

Looking for a place to rest your weary feet? A seat of nails is comfier than you might expect.

Each nail is definitely sharp, but your weight is spread across so many of them that the pressure is actually quite low. Imagine someone treading on your foot: if they are decked out in high heels then all their weight is concentrated on one point and you'll be left hopping around in pain. But if they're wearing trainers, their weight is spread over a much larger area, saving you the agony.

Find related websites about pressure physics.org

Hole in Hand

Urgh! How come you've got a hole in your hand?

Take a sheet of A4 paper and roll it into a tube. Keeping both eyes open, hold the tube up to one eye so you can look through it. Hold your other hand out flat, palm towards your face, and place it next to the tube in front of your other eye.

Your two eyes capture slightly different views of the world, which your brain then combines into a single image. Here, one eye sees the palm of your hand while the other eye sees through the tube. Your brain puts these two images together and makes it look as if you have a gaping hole in your hand!

Find related websites on optical illusions physics.org

UV Graffiti

Where did that ghostly graffiti come from? Turns out it was there all along.

These urban artists used UV-sensitive spray paint. This paint absorbs ultra violet light but then re-emits visible light. Under normal indoor lighting the graffiti is invisible, but shine a UV light on it and the message appears.

Sunlight contains UV light, and many washing powders use brighteners which react to UV, which means that the clothes you are wearing may be glowing right now!

Find related websites about UV light physics.org

Flame Tornado

Feeling chilly? Come and warm yourself next to our spookily spiralling flame.

The flame tornado is made by channelling the air around the fire in a certain way so that it looks like a spiral. As the air around the flame heats up, it rises and colder air comes in from around the base of the flame to replace it. Air contains oxygen which is one of the things that makes fires burn, so as more air enters the tornado we get a bigger flame!

This flame has been coloured red by adding lithium chloride, a chemical which is sometimes used in fireworks.

We used special equipment to achieve this, so don't try this at home!

Find related websites about the physics of fire physics.org

Rocket Balloons

Witches and wizards probably couldn't explain why these balloons whizz around the room, but Newton can.

Newton's third law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As air escapes from the balloon, the balloon moves in the opposite direction.

Find related websites about Newtonís laws with physics.org

Cackling Cups

Things that go bump, creak and cackle in the night can be explained with a paper cup!

You're just drifting off to sleep when suddenly you hear a creak. Was that a ghost? It's more likely to be the hot water pipes under your floorboards expanding slightly as they heat up. The vibrations they create produce a sound which gets louder as they travel along the pipe.

But what's that got to do with a paper cup? Find out by making your own cackling cup.

What you'll need:

  • A cardboard cup
  • A piece of string
  • Some Blu Tack
  • A pencil
  • A damp cloth
  • Stickers and pens to decorate

Put a big lump of Blu Tack on a table. Place your cardboard cup on top of it and press a pencil all the way through the base to make a hole. Thread a piece of string through the hole. Tie a knot in one end of the string (the end inside the cup), so that the string doesn't pull through the hole.

Holding the cup in one hand, run your fingers down the string. Does it sound like heavy breathing?

But we want our cup to cackle! So take a damp cloth and hold it tightly around the string, now pull the cloth along the string you've made a paper cup that sounds like a witch!

As you pull the cloth along the string it snags and catches making the string vibrate. These vibrations travel up the string to make the paper cup also vibrate. Because the paper cup is in contact with more air than the string, it amplifies the sound making it sound like a loud cackle. Just like the creaky hot water pipe!

Find related websites about the physics of sound with physics.org

Try more activities with Marvin and Milo

Spooky Ghostly Balloons

How can you make a balloon sound spooky? If you have ever heard an adult breathe in helium from a balloon you'll know that it leaves them with a rather odd high pitched voice. This is because the sound waves made by their vocal cords travel more quickly through the helium than air. This increases the frequency of the sound waves and makes their voice sound higher and squeakier!

But you can also make a spooky sound from a balloon filled with air.

What you'll need:

  • A balloon
  • A Lego tyre

Put a small Lego tyre into the balloon and blow it up (or ask your grown up to blow it up for you), then tie it off. In smooth circular movements, spin your balloon around until the Lego tyre starts to roll round and round inside of it.

The balloon is tightly stretched like a drum skin so when the tyre hits it, the plastic vibrates and makes a noise. The Lego tyre has lots of ridges in it, which means that as it goes round and repeatedly hits the inside of the stretched plastic it makes a strange spooky noise.

Spooky Balloons contain small parts so are not suitable for children under the age of three.

Find related websites about the physics of your speech with physics.org

Try more activities with Marvin and Milo

Thunder Can

Now there's a scary sound... the rumble of thunder. Thunder is the sound of the air expanding after being heated up to extremely high temperatures by lightning.

Light from a lightning bolt travels much faster than the sound of thunder. You can count the number of seconds between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder to find out how far away a thunderstorm is. Every five seconds is one mile - and if the gaps between the lightning and thunder get shorter then you'll know that the storm is getting closer and closer!

You can make your own scary thunder sound effect.

What you'll need:

  • A large cardboard tube like a postage tube (the larger the better
  • Some thin card
  • A long spring with a loop at one end (you can get these from craft stores
  • A short length of plastic straw
  • Sticky tape
  • Stickers and pens to decorate

Place the tube onto the thin card and draw round the end - you need a circle of card the same size as the end of your tube. Cut out the circle and make a hole in the middle of it by pushing a pencil through it into a blob of Blu Tack. You may need to ask your grown up for help with this.

Find related websites about thunder and lightning with physics.org

Try more activities with Marvin and Milo

E-mail Us

Have you looked around our haunted house? We hope you've enjoyed it but if you have any spooky questions then send an e-mail to and our ghoulish editor will get back to you!