STEM Challenge

Have fun and experiment with SFPL's STEM Challenge, a webseries packaged for the budding scientist and engineer to practice the scientific method using common household items. SFPL youth librarians share their love for STEM with tips, tricks and other tidbits featuring fun experiments, along with resource lists and easy how-to videos.

A note on the series title:

San Francisco Public Library strives towards being an anti-racist agency. In the spirit of this work, we changed the original name of this series, “STEM Challenge Yo’Self”, in recognition of the fact that it was appropriated from Black vernacular—an act we acknowledge contributes to the systemic oppression of Black people and the perpetuation of stereotypes that are rooted in racism. We apologize for the harm the original title may have caused to our Black community members and staff, and we have updated the name of this series to “STEM Challenge.” We are committed to doing better. Learn more about the library’s Racial Equity Work and Racial Equity Commitment, and please read the SF Human Rights Commission's anti-Black racism statement.  

Download, print and fill out your STEM C lab sheet while you complete your experiment:

STEM handoutSTEM C Lab Sheet (PDF)

2020 STEM Teen Takeover Schedule

Teens in our Youth Engaged in Library Leadership (YELL) internship program created a whole new series of STEM Challenge videos. Watch below, or on our IGTV and YouTube channels!

Can you break the water surface tension?

Challenge Name
Surface Tension and Combustion Challenge

Materials
1–2 tablespoons of black pepper, 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, 1 small empty bowl

Can you make a ziploc bag explode?

Challenge Name
Exploding Ziploc Bag Challenge

Materials
Several Ziploc bags, baking soda, vinegar, paper towel, measuring cup, water

Can you trap carbon dioxide to inflate a balloon?

Challenge Name
Chemical Reaction Magic Challenge

Materials
1 balloon, baking soda, empty bottle, a funnel

Can you carbonate an orange slice?

Challenge Name
Fizzy Orange Challenge

Materials
Baking soda, orange slices

Can you use the power of observation to predict the outcome?

Challenge Name
Chemical Reaction Challenge

Materials
Plastic bottle, baking soda, vinegar

Can you make color dyes float in liquid?

Challenge Name
Magic Milk Challenge

Materials
Food coloring, whole milk, liquid dish soap or detergent, several cotton swabs, shallow dish

Can you make invisible ink with ingredients from your pantry?

Challenge Name
Invisible Ink Challenge

Materials
Piece of paper, cups, q-tips, baking soda, water, grape juice, tomato juice, lemon juice, milk, yogurt

Can you change the color of a white flower by adding food dye to the water?

Challenge Name
Dyed Flowers Challenge

Materials
Pair of scissors, several white flowers, cup with water, food dye of your choice

Can you make color dyes float in liquid?

Challenge Name
Magic Milk Challenge

Materials
food coloring, whole milk, liquid dish soap or detergent, several cotton swabs, shallow dish

Can you make edible cottage cheese?

Challenge Name
DIY Cottage Cheese Challenge

Materials
1/2 gallon of milk, vinegar, strainer, bowl, 2 pots, something to stir the mixture, tablespoon

Can you make crystals with ingredients from your pantry?

Challenge Name
Halloween Rock Candy Challenge

Materials
6 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water, wooden skewers or string, plastic cup or jar and clips

Can you manipulate molecules?

Challenge Name
Cloud in a Jar Challenge

Materials
Glass jar with a lid, 1/3 cup of hot water, 4–5 ice cubes, hairspray, a few drops of dye

Can you make your favorite ice cream without a machine?

Challenge Name
Homemade Ice Cream Challenge

Materials
2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 cup of half-and-half, mild or heavy cream, vanilla extract, salt

Can you create your own gravity defying and independently powered object?

Challenge Name
Balloon Powered Hovercraft Challenge

Materials
Bottle cap, glue gun, CD, balloon, scissors

Can you use force to move money?

Challenge Name
Newton's Dollar Trick Challenge

Materials
Water bottle, coins, dollar bill

Can you use the power of observations to make predictions?

Challenge Name
Density and Buoyancy Challenge

Materials
Grapefruit, large container, 2 eggs, tablespoon, salt, 2 glasses of water

Can you simulate a flock of flying birds or school of fish digitally?

Challenge Name
Creative Coding Challenge

Materials
Computer, basic programming skills

Can you use the power of energy to make an object mobile?

Challenge Name
Rubber Band Powered Car Challenge

Materials
Popsicle sticks, paper clip, rubber band, bottle caps, barbecue sticks, straw, hot glue gun

Can you defy aerodynamics?

Challenge Name
Popsicle Catapult Launcher Challenge

Materials
Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, glue, plastic bottle cap, cotton ball

Can you create a never-ending maze?Challenge Name
Cardboard Maze Challenge

Materials
Cardboard, scissors, duct tape, timer, ball of your choice

Can you defy aerodynamics?

Challenge Name
Pencil Catapult Launcher Challenge

Materials
12 pencils, scissors, rubber bands, small piece of cardboard masking tape

Can you make crystals with ingredients from your pantry?

Challenge Name
DIY Rock Candy Challenge

Materials
Sugar, water, jar, stick, clothespin, spoon, cooking pot, thermometer

STEM Challenge: Can you manipulate molecules?

Challenge Name
States of Matter

Materials
Large jar or vase, hot water, matches, thin tray, ice

STEM Challenge Video Library

 

Can you use the force to control water?

Challenge Name
Water Bending Challenge

Materials
jar, cardstock paper, dish soap

Can you defy aerodynamics?

Challenge Name
Pom Pom Launcher

Materials
paper towel tube, balloon (or rubber glove), Pom Poms

Can you use sound to move seeds?

Challenge Name
Dancing Seeds

Materials
jar, plastic wrap, seeds, rubber band

Can you make something stick to ice?Challenge Name
Sticky Ice Challenge

Materials
bowl, ice, string, salt, water

Can you harness wind power with cardboard?Challenge Name
Windmill Challenge

Materials
cardboard, scissors, pencil, marker

Can you make a chain reaction with books?Challenge Name
Book Dominoes

Materials
lots of books

Can you use the power of observation to make predictions?Challenge Name
Data Challenge

Materials
paper, marker, variety of similar items

Can you make edible butter with only one ingredient?Challenge Name
Butter

Materials
heavy cream, jar

Can you defy gravity with plastic and string?Challenge Name
Parachute Design

Materials
plastic bag, string, scissors, pencil, toy

STEM Challenge Teen TakeoverChallenge Name
Teen Takeover

Materials
stapler, index card, popsicle stick, 2 pencil top erasers, wide rubber band, string, scissors, straw