There are so many mediocre science project sites on the internet that it can be difficult to find the good ones. Many sites just steal other people’s ideas and you see a lot of the same tired projects over and over. And many sites are so obsessed with making money that the fun science gets buried. They use slick tricks to make videos “successful” (and profitable, with advertising) in attracting eyeballs. But for someone viewing those videos and actually making the project, they are useless.
Ah, but then there are the gems! There are some people who are obviously passionate about their work and it shows in the quality. Each of these sites has it’s own personality and style.
Most of the sites below will never have a “viral” video because the very qualities that make for a good science project video—helpful details; addressing the science, giving credit to previous work done by other people; asking viewers to actually do something rather than passively watch--assure that they will never get millions of views. Most viral “science” videos are about blowing something up with lots of testosterone and little educational value—and a huge proportion of them are outright hoaxes.
It behooves us to let people know about these good sites then. SPREAD THE WORD! Perhaps you’ll even drop them an e-mail of encouragement because they’re not just doing it for the money.
Eploratorium Science "Snacks"
Hila Science Online
Grandad is an Old Man
Ivydale Science and Technology
King of Random
Spark Bang Buzz
Honorable Mentions might not be narrowly DIY project sites per se, but they take a step back and show where science projects fit into the bigger picture. All high quality and irresistibly interesting.
Honorable Mention: Wayne Shmidt/ This and That
Honorable Mention: Engineer Guy
Honorable Mention: Johnno's Science
Honorable Mention--Grand Illusions
Honorable Mention--Woodgears.ca/Matthias Wandel
Hall of Shame parasites
A team of inspired educators in India has put together photographic instructions and videos for hundreds of clever toys; most from recycled or very inexpensive to buy materials for. Most have a science theme. The "Do it details" link at the bottom of each project page gives detailed, print-friendly instructions. Most have a video link, too. Lost of brilliant, original work and the site gets better all the time. A good first stop for any educator looking for simple, easy-to-make hands-on projects.
http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/toys.html YouTube instructional video home page http://www.youtube.com/user/arvindguptatoys
The Exploratorium science museum of San Francisco has set the standard for inspired science exploration since its inception. They surely have inspired me. Some of these "snacks" are versions of famous exhibits that you can make at home. The snacks are well thought out, refined and all around high quality. Poke around the rest of the Exploratorium site, too. There's always something interesting. Click on:
Bruce not only shows how to make jaw-dropping projects and demonstrations; as a physics teacher he is also particularly good at explaining the science involved. Even when he presents classic demos with, say, static electricity or Chladni plates, he discovers something new. I had known about and admired Bruce's work for years before somebody commented on a video that both of us live in Pennsylvania; so I visited Bruce at his school to fly walkalong gliders with his students. His classroom and lab are like magic castles and he has a wonderful rapport with his students. He takes lessons that could be pretty dry--like measuring and converting various units of power--and has his students measure their power. They time sprints up stadium steps and figure out horsepower, watts, etc. His students go outside to actually measure the speed of sound and make their own musical instruments. There's so much more, so I interviewed Bruce at length and hope to have it uploaded by this autumn. His YouTube videos are here:
This Canadian tackles astronomy, natural science (he even keeps honey bees
and shows how to extract honey), electronics and mechanical devices and lots
more. I particularly enjoy his historical investigations, like building Bell’s
first telephone or calculating longitude, that let us vicariously travel back
in time and experience inventions. Even cerebral projects in, say, astronomy
because he presents it so well and is savvy with video editing tools that illustrate
his concepts so helpfully. Sadly, Wayne Campbell has passed, but his work remains
Like Rimstar (just below) this is an excellent site with an emphasis on electricity, electronics and magnetism. Lucid presents clearly, with enough detail so that we can actually build the projects too. Really well done!
I first became aware of this site when RimStar started making esoteric electrical
projects accessible to regular people. He obviously demonstrates an electrical
engineering background, but the subject matter now is wide ranging and always
high quality. He doesn’t dumb-down the projects. Instead he lifts us
up by educating us about how stuff works. With his considerable video editing skills
he is showing us as much as telling us. And this Canadian site shows the helpful
details—even the things that he tried that didn’t work—that
insure success when we build it.
http://rimstar.org and Steven's YouTube channel
Grandad makes all sorts of projects for the enjoyment of his grandkids. Lucky kids—and lucky us, because this Brit takes us along for the ride with his camera. He is an extraordinary hacker, re-purposing inexpensive and recycled stuff into something completely different. And he tries out projects from the Internet and we get to see if the instructions live up to their promise so we don’t waste our time. There are hundreds of videos and the variety is amazing, but he has them categorized in play-lists so it’s easy to navigate. https://www.youtube.com/user/GrandadIsAnOldMan/featured
This site is...umm... a little different. But who can resist such lofty scientific pursuits as "Unwise Microwave Oven Experiments" or "Evil genius hi-tech practical joke ideas" and "Childhood brain-modification techniques" or "The DisgustoScope?" At first blush you'll think this guy is mad as a hatter, but when you sniff around awhile you'll find loads of really high quality stuff (with humor) by a brilliant and dedicated scientist who "learned to 'dance' with the subject." And you'll never think of science as dry and dull again. Click on:
Bill also has a good do-it-yourself science links page.
Bill Kuhl (pronounced "cool") has created a remarkable site. His
articles are both far ranging--from solar and mousetrap cars to airplanes and
water rockets--and yet detailed. I just watched the power point he created
about mousetrap cars. It discusses all the nitty gritty little things that
are so often glossed over. At last I'm becoming aware of other people who share
my belief the it's the details that matter. Bill is particularly strong with
all kinds of model airplane building and designing.
Paul Newham travels around to London schools and works with classes of primary
students to actually make projects—every pupil makes and takes home a
project. He also creates project videos for the rest of us; they are terrific
because he’s always grounded in the logistics of making it work with
large groups of kids. Paul and people like him who go to the extra work of
creating hands-on learning experiences with young people are the true heroes
of the world.
Paul also supplies parts like pulleys, magnets, wheels, electrical, props, construction materials, class packs, etc. very inexpensively
My friend Erik Herman does science outreach at Cornell University and has developed some cool projects, from dolphin ring generators to air rocket launchers.
Erik's YouTube Channel
This site has an amazing variety of science toys, from a simple laser communicator to vacuum pump, magnetic levitation to crystal radio. There is a catalog for hard-to-find things like gallium (a liquid metal--non-toxic substitute for mercury). Cool site!
David Williamson--who lives in London--is a true Renaissance man, great friend and a wonderful teacher (seen here guest teaching in my middle school during a visit).
At his YouTube channel you will find creative projects from Sterling and steam
engines to drawing bots; balloon-powered helicopters to solar-powered mobiles--made
from cheap or recycled stuff.
Most of the videos are linked to a web page with more details, or you can go directly to the index here
Sniff around the website--lots of stories, nooks and crannies.
To see some very short (1 or 2 MB) videos (I made these before there was YouTube)of some of his kinetic projects, click here.
Grant Thompson’s channel might be the only one to have viral videos (and crass commercialism) AND high quality coexisting together. He must have put a lot of time experimenting to have gotten the results. When he builds on other people’s work, he is good about attributing his starting point. UPDATE: Well, KOR is cranking out videos and most are variations of "Let's blow something up and call it science." Grant has acknowledged the tension between quality and putting food on his family's table. He says he's hiring someone to help develop more quality projects. And there are still great projects in the archives
My introduction to
Nyle Steiner's work was this amazing hybrid of static electricity levitation and glider, yet simple to make with good instructions (note that static electicity projects work better in cool, dry weather (winter).
but there are other quirky imaginaative projects, particularly electronics, His website
Given the footprint and success of Make publications, videos and events, it hardly seems necessary to mention them. The trick is sifting through the sheer volume. Certain subjects dominate--like 3-D printers/ quadracopters/ Aruino/ Radio Shack projects--but there's an amazing diversity of other high quality projects too if you take the time to look.
I think I have a twin brother. Mr.Stanislav Horvath, a Slovakian teacher 1). likes science toys, 2.) creates videos about how to make them, and 3.) includes his students in the videos. And it's almost like we share the same mind. I worked on a video with students about making a small hot air balloon for months. Experimentatori uploaded his video just before I put up mine. Our methods differed slightly, but were amazingly similar. Great creativity here. Language understanding could be a problem. However, the videos are so well made that even not understanding a word of Slovak, I understand most of what's going on. This is the link to his page of YouTube videos http://www.youtube.com/user/experimentator
By now we know that many scientists are a bit eccentric, and the Brits...well, you know...double dose! So don't panic when I say this excellent British site-- associated with Cambridge University-- is created by a group calling themselves the Naked Scientists (" to strip science down to the bare essentials, and promote it to the general public.") Get it? Nothing objectionable to worry about after all.
There are over 150 excellent projects, many of them originals that I've not seen elsewhere. Here are some of my favorites to get started: bubbles that sink (antibubbles), centrifugal pump made from straws, infrared camera from a webcam . Thanks to North Carolinian Louise Omoto Kessel--story teller, homesteader, homeschool mom and camp organizer--for the heads up.
The main Kitchen Science Experiments page is here. http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/kitchenscience/
Here's another fun, scrappy labor-of-love site by Jose Pino. http://www.josepino.com/other_projects/ I especially like the Beakman motor, thermometer, barometer, toothpick designs, and who could forget the pinwheels--still have to try some of the others.
There’s not much chemistry on sciencetoymaker, but why bother when such a quality site as NurdRage has that covered? Find here all the nitty-gritty details of making glow sticks, solar cells, glow-in-the-dark powder, galvanizing metal, flash crystals, dissolving glass and, yes, lots of ways to make fire without matches. There’s some cool physics, too, about making things levitate. Best of all, he’s a master of using serendipitous moments to explain further what’s happening, and I even detect some dry humor. Who knew chemistry could be so entertaining?
The equipment and chemicals are not the sort of thing most of us have lying around, though a high school lab might. The exact identity of the alpha nerd is a mystery, but he goes by Dr. N. Butyl Lithium, and he’s a Canadian research scientist working in the field of organometallic chemistry. Whoever he is, we’re all fortunate that he takes the time and effort to turn on hundreds of thousands of people around the world to science.
I don't know this guy, but he has some of the most amazing science demonstrations described and on video. They gave me the information and confidence to finally tackle some of them. http://chemmovies.unl.edu/chemistry/beckerdemos/bd000.html
Lots of ordinary people have sent in instructions and some pictures for doing something. The subjects range from really useful to really weird. http://www.instructables.com/
http://www.abc.net.au/science/surfingscientist/teachstuff/demonstrations/ Thanks again to Erik Bell for the heads up. Judging from the e-mails I get, there is a lot of interest in sci toys down under. This link is from ABC TV in Australia. Some of the ideas are oldies but goodies.
This Fun Science site appears to be from Italy, well translated into English. I first became aware of the site when I stumbled across its historic glass sphere microscope. Indeed, two thirds of the items are about microscopy and optics.
There is also an interesting page featuring folk toys
This is what you get when a couple of MIT grad students meet a comic book creator. The marshmallow blowgun and the balloon hovercraft are my favorites. Instructables (see above) took them over.
Wow, I wish I got holiday cards from Mr. Eggers, the paper engineer who has created this how-to site! Maybe if enough of us ask nicely he will work on the "under construction" projects.
This site is all about making hot air balloons out of thin plastic dry cleaner's bags heated and sent aloft with birthday candles. Tom takes a serious approach to the hot air balloons and really delves into the science and the math that makes them work. Obviously people need to exercise caution with these, but why shun them altogether? I also have a plastic bag hot air balloon project that that details bag thicknes--an important but often overlooked consideration. Too thick and it's too heavy to fly.
Here are some more great projects for very young kids. One could say that Joel Henriques' blog is more art than science. But when you get to projects for very young kids the already blurred line between art and science gets even more nebulous. And whatever you call it, they are quality projects. This Oregonian has 3 year old twin daughters and he makes wonderful things with them. The link is to a fish cutout, lots more if you look around..
HONORABLE MENTIONS: These following sites do not fit neatly --or they have a broader scope--than "DIY science projects". However, if you check them out, you will see why I include them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Building your own electron microscope, laser or liquid nitrogen generator might be bigger DIY projects than you bargain for, but Ben has made all of these. To say that his subject matter is eclectic hardly does justice. From the physics of floating screwdrivers to a rheoscopic table, to a chocolate glue gun and everything in between--and then some. Ben's YT Channel
Mr. Schmidt was literally a rocket scientist until he retired to devote full time to scientific inquires closer to home. Many of the videos are about gold prospecting, but the range of his projects is extraordinary and he tackles each subject fiercely with investigation and well-designed experiments. If you think scientific rigor is boring, you'll be happily surprised to see how interesting it actually is when done with quality. His topic page is here. Here are some of my favorite projects: a better harmonograph; giant soap bubbles; cloud chamber; but believe me when I say that I've not even begun to scratch the surface.
Professor Bill Hammack and his team at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have a real gift for investigationg engineering and design in such an interesting way! And in addition to "how-it-works" they take the time to consider how it got to be that way: the historical background. It's rare to find so much quality in one place.
http://www.engineerguy.com and on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/engineerguyvideo/videos
Ric Johnson is a Science Specialist Support Teacher in Australia who has won international awards for his combination of web-based and hands-on STEM. His Jonno's Science website shares that winning combination with the best links and hands-on activities.
Although it's not a "how-to-make-it" site, Grand Illusions is a treasure trove
of science curiosities. Their YouTube channel where
Tim demonstrates is
At first blush you could be forgiven for thinking that this site is just about woodworking and it is--but there's so much more! I don't know how one person can have so many original ideas. Then Matthias takes us along for the ride as he makes them a reality. He has a popular YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/Matthiaswandel/videos and a website, but start with here http://woodgears.ca/machines.html and his personal website first http://www.sentex.net/~mwandel/
Having the seen the best of the best, here’s what they’re up against--obviously intelligent people who have completely sold their souls. These parasites deliberately disguise themselves as science project builders—but deliver lies and frustration to anyone who actually tries to follow the "instructions". That’s why we need to promote the real, quality sites.
The ViralVideoLab channel on YouTube is a series of hoaxes presented as DIY
science projects. He uses his considerable video skills to deceive rather than
inform—the hoaxes look real, although it’s really the same pony
trick over and over. Then he goes even further to where it’s out and
out mean-spirited. For example, I have put a lot of effort into introducing
people to walkalong gliders. VVL steals my paper design and makes it “fly” with
a model car going around on a track. Flying a walkalong glider looks like magic,
but you cannot do that. And here’s the mean-spirited part: He gives all
sorts of details like, “Please note: the angle of the spoiler should
be at 45 +/- 10 degrees (the size of the spoiler needs to be DINA4. Make sure
your paper airplane is trimmed to do a constant right turn, otherwise it won´t
That sounds like the kind of detail that I would include for insuring success, but VVL is using it to further perpetuate the hoax. Can you imagine some kid earnestly trying to follow the directions and wondering what’s the mater with him/her that they can’t get it to work? Its hurtful, shameful behavior.
DaveHax is a serial thief. At his best he steals other people’s ideas, repackages them with superlatives and hype, and makes thousands of dollars partnering with YouTube to sell advertising. But when he stole my pop pop boat design, he changed it into essentially a hoax. First, since he had to make it look like he had added something, he assures us that you can use BlueTack instead of epoxy to seal the steam engine. But it’s almost impossible to stop the leaks; and completely impossible once the BlueTack gets wet and stops sticking. By the end of the video he allows as how you could use epoxy (the original sciencetoymaker.org method) to make it “last much longer”. So much for innovation.
When he shows how to use epoxy, there’s no way to do it his way without getting sticky epoxy on your fingers and everywhere else. And he shows the engine seam side down. It’s no coincidence that he shows the epoxy boat outdoors: the way it’s made will burn epoxy, and the smell of burned epoxy would make a mortician gag. Heaven help anyone who tries to build an engine his way.
I would be the first to admit that my original instructions were too long—22 steps—and crude video production. But lots of people successfully made them and showed them on YouTube. Better to have too much detail than not enough. I am working on instructions for a simple simpler, easier to make design.
You might find it amusing that I’m bent out of shape about a science toy, but if you were in my shoes you would see why. I started making pop pop engines with my students in the 1990s. First we made the classic form that has been around for over a hundred year—with a brass diaphragm soldered to a pressed boiler, pipes, etc. First I used the same design, but substituted aluminum and epoxy. After years of experimenting and going down many dead ends I completely redesigned the engine to use only an aluminum can, straws and epoxy. I uploaded instructions on YouTube in 2009, non-commercially (no advertising). In 2013 DaveHax scooped up years of my work and uploaded his dumbed-down version of my steam engine design with no attribution but with plenty of advertising
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