50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Put Strange Stuff in the Microwave

CD in the microwave

Task: Experiment with electromagnetic radiation in the kitchen.

 

Requires:

  • Microwave oven
  • Grapes (or grape tomatoes)
  • Unwanted CD

Possible Hazards:

  • Fire
  • Bad Stink
  • Burns

How It All Went Down:

When you’re on Day 5 of no school, with the kids having gone a grand total of 8 1/2 days in January, you start to think just about anything to entertain them is a good idea.  Even an idea that might start a fire.  But hey, in all fairness, with the windchill in subzero range, any kind of fire starts to sound appealing.  And so we decided to put strange stuff in the microwave.

Whether your parents condone it or not, I think there’s a part in all of us that wonders what would happen if we put _______ in the microwave.  And there’s also that jolt of adrenaline that comes from accidentally putting something in the microwave that doesn’t belong, like that one coffee mug you own with the decorative metallic rim.  It turns out the microwaves that are responsible for heating our food quickly are also capable of some cool science experiments with crazy visuals.  Impress the kids by spouting off that microwaves are really just magnetrons  hooked up to a high voltage source.  You’ll sound really important.

In 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), Mr. Tulley suggests you try putting a CD, a grape and marshmallows in the microwave (though not all at the same time).  I suggest you start small with the grape and work your way up to the most impressive of the bunch, the CD.

The marshmallow is easy enough.  Just place a marshmallow on a microwave-safe plate and run it at full power for 10 seconds. We only had mini-marshmallows on hand, which aren’t nearly as impressive as the big ones.  This is also the perfect time to play around with marshmallow Peeps!

The book suggests you cut a grape almost in half, leaving the skin as a hinge between the two pieces.  You then place the grape on a microwave-safe plate, cut side up, and heat for 10 seconds.  If all goes well, your grape should arch and spark, essentially making a dielectric antenna between the grape halves. Ours didn’t cooperate, but this can be due to several factors, including the water content of your grapes, where you place them in the microwave, and the power of your microwave oven.  I figured it was the microwave gods warning me to be thankful I wasn’t cleaning grape plasma off the inside of the microwave and moved on to the CD.

I’ll admit, I was afraid of this one. I’d probably never do it again, but it was definitely impressive!  A CD contains a thin sheet of aluminum foil sealed between two sheets of plastic (news to me!).  Metal is a great conductor of electricity, so exposing it to microwaves causes the free electrons on the metal’s surface to move around like crazy.  Unlike stuff that’s supposed to go in the microwave because the waves are easily absorbed, the waves bounce off metal surfaces causing sparks and swear words to fly out of your mouth.

In order to see this in action for yourself, place an unwanted CD on a paper towel in the microwave.  Run it for 3 seconds.  Trust us on this one, 3 seconds is plenty of time!  Observe:

You’ll want to stress to your kids that while your game for suggestions of things to put in the microwave, all foreign objects must be subject to parental approval before they’re nuked.  Never nuke anything for more than 10 seconds at a time.  If there is a fire, stop the microwave but don’t open the door until the fire goes out.  And finally, remember that things can get insanely hot in a very short time in the microwave.  Use oven mitts or tongs to remove objects that have been microwaved.

A few other things I’ve seen tossed around as cool to microwave (but haven’t tried) are gummy bears, Ivory soap, light bulbs and whole eggs.  On the safer (and yummier) side, the kids are now intrigued enough to want to try cooking mini cakes and cookies in cups in the microwave.  I’m game for that experiment!

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever microwaved – on purpose or on accident?

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).

 

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Comments

  1. HOW COOL. I wish I could try this now, but I don’t trust my kids to understand that they can’t put everything in the mircowave. As soon as the oldest is in school, we’re doing it!

  2. If you’re going to microwave peeps, you should know that microwaved peeps are delicious.