Young Scientists Club

The Young Scientists Club is a science enrichment program for elementary school children. In 2023-2024, it is being held as a weekly before-school club for 2nd and 3rd graders at Carmel Creek Elementary. During club meetings, students participate in hands-on interactive activities that demonstrate key scientific concepts. The club is run by Prof. Elena Koslover, with the aid of graduate students and postdocs from the UCSD physics department, parent volunteers, and volunteer scientists from the local community. It is funded as an outreach activity through a grant from the National Science Foundation. There is no cost to participate.

Due to constraints on space and resources, the club is limited to approximately 30 students during each quarter. When the demand exceeds the number of spots available, entry is through a lottery system. If you are interested in signing up for the club, look for flyers sent home with your child in August and again in January.

The Winter 2024 session will run Feb 8 - Mar 28. The activities for this session will focus on waves, sound, and light.

If you are a parent or scientist and would like to help organize, create, or run the YSC activities, please contact Lena Koslover. If your child is attending the current session, we need some parent volunteers to help supervise. Please contact Lena Koslover for a link to the sign-up sheet. We especially need extra volunteers for March 7th.

Activity Worksheets: Winter 2024; Waves, Sound, and Light

Waves and Harmonics

Visualizing string vibrations and standing waves

Students will investigate traveling waves by sending pulses through a stretched slinky, and try making standing wave patterns by shaking the slinky with the right harmonic frequencies. They will make a basic string instrument and explore how changing the tension and length of the strings affects the resulting sound.

Activity dates: 2/8/2024, 1/29/2022, 12/9/2020, 12/7/2018

(BFSU connection: lesson C2)

pdf worksheet

Sound and Resonance

Exploring sound waves and musical instruments

Students will visualize sound waves as vibrations moving through the air. They will make a string telephone to see how sound can be focused by moving through a tight string. They will also play with a variety of toy instruments that include a vibrating component and a resonant cavity to amplify sound.

Activity dates: 2/15/2024, 1/29/2022, 12/9/2020, 12/7/2018

(BFSU connection: lesson C2)

pdf worksheet

Light and Color

Adding and subtracting colors of light

Students will learn that colors correspond to frequencies of light waves, and that light can be a mixture of many frequencies. We will use rotating discs to add together colors of light (additive, or RGB model). We will also subtract colors by sending light through gummy-bear 'filters' (subtractive, CMY color model).

Activity dates: 2/29/2024

(BFSU connection: lesson C15)

pdf worksheet


Bouncing Light Beams and Making Images

Students will visualize light beams by shining laser pointers through juice. Light beams will reflect of straight and curved surfaces, demonstrating convergence and divergence. Images formed by curved mirrors, as well as multiple images from two mirrors at an angle will be explored. The students will make a basic kaleidoscope that produces multiple images.

Activity dates: 3/7/2024, 3/12/2021

pdf worksheet

Refraction and Lenses

Bending light beams with jello

Students explore refraction by visualizing laser pointer beams bending at an air-jello interface. We cut out our own lenses from jello to see light beams converge and diverge, and discuss the optical properties of human eyes. Students also use jello strips as "fiberoptic cables" to bounce laser beams around a corner.

Activity dates: 3/21/2024, 3/5/2022, 12/17/2019, 11/19/2019

pdf worksheet

Activity Worksheets: Fall 2023, Forces and Motion

Center of Mass

The Amazing Floating Butterfly

Students will discover how the center of mass serves as the "balance point" of an object. They will find the center of mass of a cut-out butterfly and learn how to shift that center so that the butterfly can be balanced on its extreme tip. They will also explore how placing the center of mass underneath the support allows an object to be in stable equilibrium.

Activity dates: 10/5/2023, 10/6/2022, 2/12/2021

(BFSU connection: lesson C9)

pdf worksheet
More advanced version: pdf worksheet

Kinetic and Potential Energy

Marble Roller Coasters

Students experience the conversion between kinetic and gravitational potential energy by constructing simple tracks for rolling marbles. Conservation of energy and the loss of mechanical energy due to friction are discussed. Students measure the maximum height of loops and hills that a marble can get over from a given starting height.

Activity dates: 9/28/2023, 10/20/2022

(BFSU connection: lesson C3)

pdf worksheet

Simple Machines

Doing work with less force

Students will use few simple machines (inclined plane, pulley, lever) to lift loads to a certain height, while measuring the force required to do so. They will demonstrate that the same load can be lifted with a smaller force using these machines. We will discuss the general principle: Work = force times distance. To accomplish the same end result, a smaller force has to act over a longer distance.

Activity dates: 9/21/2023

(BFSU connection: lesson C11, C12)

pdf worksheet: teacher version
pdf worksheet: student version

Mass and Weight

Measuring the force of gravity

Students will make their own spring scale to measure forces. Using pennies as a standard mass, they will demonstrate that the force with which gravity pulls on an object goes up with the mass of the object. The distinction between mass (amount of material) and weight (force of gravity) will be discussed.

Activity dates: 9/14/2023, 9/22/2022

(BFSU connection: lesson C3A)

pdf worksheet: teacher version
pdf worksheet: student version

Newton's Laws

Exploring forces and inertia with balloon rockets.

Students create balloon rockets that zip across the room. We will discuss how jet propulsion works, and explore the effect of mass on how quickly the balloons move. A pendulum will be used to see the effect of inertia as the balloon rockets speed up and slow down.

Activity dates: 9/7/2023, 9/15/2022, 6/4/2020

(BFSU connection: lesson C5, C7)

pdf worksheet


Exploring motion

Students will become familiar with Newton's 1st Law, demonstrating that objects sit still or keep moving with a constant velocity until something pushes them. We will observe inertia in action by watching rolling balls and dropping objects while on the move.

Activity dates: 8/31/2023, 9/8/2022

(BFSU connection: lesson C5)

pdf worksheet

Activity Worksheets: Spring 2023, Chemistry and Biochemistry


Making `elephant toothpaste' with chemical machines

In this activity, students learn about enzymes -- molecules produced by living things to speed up chemical reactions. We will use an enzyme called catalase, from yeast cells, to catalyze the conversion of peroxide into water and oxygen. Students will note the heat released by this exothermic reaction. They will measure both the reaction time and the total amount of product produced and explore how these measurements depend on the amont of substrate and enzyme.

Activity dates: 5/25/2023

pdf worksheet

DNA Extraction

Isolating DNA from strawberries.

Students will extract DNA from strawberries and note how certain chemical reactions can change the solubility of a molecule in water, creating precipitates.

Activity by: NIH Human Genome Research Institute

Activity dates: 5/18/2023

pdf worksheet

Analytical Chemistry

Identifying unknown powders

Students will be given five mystery powders to identify, using their senses as well as by running several common chemical tests. Students will measure the pH of the samples, as well as observing reactivity with water, vinegar, and iodine. Combining together observations with some deductive logic will lead them to the unique identify of each powder.

Activity by: Natalie Nady

Activity dates: 5/11/2023

pdf worksheet


Ripping electrons from water and pennies

In this activity, students will use electricity to trigger chemical reactions. By running electricity through graphite electrodes placed in salty water, they will break up water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas bubbles, and will make small amounts of chlorine gas. They will also use copper-coated pennies as electrodes, producing bluish-tinged copper sulphate and greenish-brown copper chloride compounds depending ont the salt solution used.

Activity dates: 5/4/2023, 9/18/2019

pdf worksheet: student version
pdf worksheet: teacher version


Color-changing Acids and Bases

Students will measure the pH of different house-hold substances using a home-made red cabbage indicator. They will then carry out a titration to compare two acids with similar pH. Predictions of relative acidity will be tested by measuring the total gas produced in an acid-base reaction and collected with a balloon.

Activity dates: 4/23/2023, 4/16/2021

pdf worksheet: student version
pdf worksheet: teacher version

Acids and Bases

Blowing up balloons with chemical reactions

Students use pH strips to measure the pH of solutions with different concentrations of citric acid. They add the solutions to baking soda, generating carbon dioxide gas which is collected in a balloon. The extent to which the balloon inflates depends on the initial pH of the solution. Measuring pH afterwards shows whether or not all the baking soda was used up during the reaction.

Activity dates: 4/20/2023, 12/17/2019, 11/19/2019


Separating Mixtures

Purifying components with physical processes.

Students will make a mixture of rice, sand, iron filings, and salt, measuring the amount put in by weight or volume. They will then use different laboratory processes (filtration, dissolution, magnetic extraction) to separate out the individual components and will measure the amount they recover. We will discuss how mixtures are made without breaking molecular bonds, so that the mixed substances can be extracted again without chemical reactions.

Activity dates: 4/13/2023

(BFSU connection: lessons A9, A14)

Worksheet (student version)
Worksheet (teacher version)

Activity Worksheets: Winter 2023, Matter and Fluids

Surface Tension

Exploring the effect of surfactants on surface tension.

Students observe how surface tension can hold a large drop of water together and how the effects of surface tension are reduced by the addition of soap. They also experiment "popping" the surface layer of water: making currents by forming a sufrace tension gradient. These currents are used to make tie-dye patterns in milk.

Activity dates: 3/9/2023, 4/23/2020

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:

Diffusion in Fluids

Spreading through Random Walks and Density Gradients

Students will run simulations (rolling dice) to demonstrate how the random jiggling of molecules in a solution leads to diffusion: the spreading of particles from high concentration to low concentration regions. By comparing transit times, they will see that diffusion across longer distances becomes very slow. We will also note that density or gradients can allow for faster spreading as solute molecules push each other out of a dense region. By watching the movement of colored dye away from dissolving skittles, students will observe how solute molecules spread out rapidly from a region of high density and then mix much slower by random-walk diffusion once the density gradient is gone.

Activity dates: 3/2/2023, 11/18/2020

(BFSU connection: lesson A11)

pdf worksheet
Template for simulating randomwalk
Alternate worksheet from APS Squishy Science festival at APS 2024, including diffusion, active transport, and density gradients
Alternate worksheet from 2020, covering diffusion and mixing in active fluids.

Fluid Viscosity and Drag

How Fluids Resist Flow

Students will buld a simple viscometer and use it to compare the flow rates and viscosities of different common fluids. They will then gain first-hand experience with viscous drag, by pulling a paperclip through fluids with a weak magnet at different speeds. Large drag forces due to fast speeds or high viscosities will rip the paperclip off the magnet. The maximum achievable speed can be compared among the fluids and will vary according to their measured viscosities.

Activity dates: 2/16/2023, 5/14/2022

pdf worksheet

Float versus Sink

Density of fluids

Students will measure densities of common fluids and learn that objects with lower density than the surrounding fluid will float. They will make a density column with three fluids and several common objects, predicting the order of the layers and the location where each object floats. They will then make their own "lava-lamps" with floating gas bubbles and sinking water droplets in a tube of oil, powered by an acid-base reaction.

Activity dates: 2/9/2023, 4/23/2022

(BFSU connection: lesson A15)

pdf worksheet

Density of Materials

Measuring mass, volume, and density

Students will learn about the concept of density as the mass per unit volume of an object. We will identify the material that pennies and dimes are made off by comparing them to pure metals. We will also compare densities of glass, plastic, metal, and rock and identify the true nature of a seemingly `golden' rock, a la Archimedes. This activity will introduce students to the use of scales and graduated cylinders, and to the notion of measurement precision and error.

Activity dates: 2/2/2023, 4/23/2022

(BFSU connection: lesson A15)

pdf worksheet

longer version worksheet (from 2022)

Gasses: Pressure and Volume

Pushing around air and blowing up balloons

In this activity, students demonstrate that air takes up space by using a cup as a diving bell. We find two different ways of blowing up a balloon without touching it, by increasing pressure or decreasing it through suction. The relationship between volume and pressure is applied to build a simple model of our lungs, where increasing the volume of a container (chest cavity) lowers the pressure and brings in air from the outside.

Activity dates: 1/26/2023

(BFSU connection: lesson A3, A6)

pdf worksheet

States of Matter

Solid, fluid, and in between

Students examine solid and fluid materials, demonstrating that solids undergo elastic deformation in response to small forces and fracture in response to large ones, and that fluids tend to maintain a constant volume. They then make a batch of Oobleck -- a viscoelastic material that behaves as a solid in response to short rapid forces and as a liquid in response to slow forces.

Activity dates: 1/19/2023

(BFSU connection: lesson A2)

pdf worksheet

Activity Worksheets: Fall 2022, Forces and Motion

Other activities from this session are being repeated in Fall 2023 and can be found above

Rotational Inertia

Spinning Tops and Rolling Races

Students gain hands-on intuition for rotational inertia by manipulating spinning toys and by making batons with different mass distributions. They set up races for rolling objects of different shapes (hollow vs solid), relating the rate of rolling to the distribution of mass around the spinning axis. Applications of rotational inertia in sports are discussed.

Activity dates: 10/27/2022

pdf worksheet

Forces and Flight

Taking Off with Paper Airplanes

Students explore the forces produced by moving air that help an airplane fly. They will experience drag and lift forces directly with paper sheets. They will then make their own paper airplanes and examine how different control flaps affect the behavior of the plane.

Activity dates: 10/13/2022, 5/14/2021

(BFSU connection: lesson C8)

pdf worksheet

Longer version worksheet
Slides from virtual activity

Gravity and Projectiles

Time and Range for Projectile Motion.

Students explore what factors affect how long it takes an object to fall and how far it flies while falling. A sound recording app is used to precisely measure times of flight. We learn that gravity makes heavier and lighter objects fall vertically at the same rate, regardless of how far they move horizontally.

Activity dates: 9/29/2022, 5/7/2020

pdf worksheet

Other activity worksheets form past sessions

Diffusion and Random Walks

Simulating Intracellular Transport

Students will use simulations and model systems to explore how particles move through fluids in the intracellular world. First, we will simulate diffusion by mapping out random walks with dice, demonstrating how inefficient diffusion can be for transport over long distances. The students will then explore actively driven random walks by finding encounter times between hexbug nanobots in different conditions mimicking the crowded and geometrically complex environment inside living cells.

Activity dates: 6/4/2022

pdf worksheet
Alternate worksheet from APS Squishy Science festival 2024, including diffusion, active transport, and density gradients

Diffraction Spectra

Patterns and Rainbows by Diffraction of Light

Students will observe diffraction spectra from light bending around a hair, and use the spectrum to compair hair thickness. Diffraction glasses are used to explore diffraction patterns and notice how different color laser beams make slightly different patterns. The glasses are then used to look at several sources of white light, noting the varying spectrum of colors in each.

Activity dates: 3/26/2022, 2/27/2020

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:

Oscillations and Resonance: Pendulums

What sets the regular swinging of a pendulum?

Students make pendulums and explore which variables affect their swinging frequency. They also observe resonance in action with coupled pendulums.

Activity dates: 3/26/2020

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:

Camouflage and Natural Selection

Evolution of the Skittlefish

Students will simulate how visual predation on an animal species can provide evolutionary pressure that leads to adaptations such as camouflage and mimicry. Skittles of different colors will be used to explore natural selection, demonstrating how traits in a population can change over time without any individual animal changing its characteristics.

Activity dates: 1/6/2021

(BFSU connection: lesson B5A)

Note: This activity is being run virtually in 2021. You will need to provide your own supplies.

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:


What determines whether an object floats or sinks?

Students will test common hypotheses for what properties determine whether different objects float (is it size? weight?) and learn about concepts of density and buoyancy. In Part 1, we explore why Legos float while playdoh sinks. In Part 2, we compare the density of eggs, water, and oil.

Activity dates: 10/15/2020

(BFSU connection: lesson A15)

Note: This activity is being run virtually. You will need to provide your own supplies.

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:

Solar System

Modeling Planets

Students put together scale models of the solar system, to explorethe distances between the planets and their relative size. We discuss why scale models are useful and what sort of information they can convey. Students will develop an intuitive sense of size for the planets and the vastness of interstellar distances.

Activity dates: 5/21/2020

Note: This activity is being run virtually. You will need to provide your own supplies.

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:


Investigating properties of fluids.

Students will see how to change whether an object sinks or floats (density), what sets the speed of squirting water (pressure), and the changes in pressure that arise with fast air flow (Bernoulli effect).

Activity by: Michelle Chen

Activity dates: 4/16/2020

Note: This activity is being run virtually. You will need to provide your own supplies.

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:


Modeling virus spread

Students make a model of a virus and its lytic lifecycle, as well as simulating the spread of infectious diseases.

Activity by: Natalie Nady

Activity dates: 4/2/2020

Note: This activity is being run virtually. You will need to provide your own supplies.

pdf worksheet
Required equipment:

Polymers of Life: Protein and DNA

Exploring material and chemical properties of proteins from an egg and DNA from strawberries

Students learn about the physical properties of polymer solutions (viscoelastic fluids). We examine the consistency of egg whites (a dense protein solution) and how it changes when proteins are cut up by pineapple juice or unfolded by alcohol. Students then extract DNA from a strawberry using alcohol precipitation and examine its similar "slime-like" consistency.

Activity dates: 2/27/2020

Several of the above activities were modified from those developed as part of the LabSci project at Stanford University.
Several are loosely based on suggestions from the Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding curriculum (Vol 1 and 2) by Bernard J. Nebel.