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Lanyard-mountable LED throwies

At the last “HacKidThon”, we showed a passel of kids how to make LED “throwies”. Each one is a nothing more than an LED, a coin cell battery, and a magnet so the contraption can stick to metal surfaces, walls and buildings, and hang there glowing.

This week, someone asked me if we could modify the classic design somehow so that the LEDs could be attached to lanyards, instead of magnets. We wanted it to be as cheap and easy as the rest of the “throwie” recipe.

A little brainstorming with Eleanor, and we came up with this: plastic-coated paperclips!

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The paperclips actually help hold the LED leads in place; we put tape around them as usual, though that’s not shown in the picture. The plastic coating keeps the paperclip from shorting out the positive and negative battery terminals.

The coated paperclips cost less than a penny apiece, and come in colors that match the LEDs. Victory!

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Glowing bubbles?! Yes! …but no.

The other day I was in the store and my attention was caught by “Super Miracle Bubbles® GLOW FUSION™ Bubble Solution” — bubble soap that claimed that it made bubbles that glowed.  These were not bubbles that glowed-under-black-light (fluorescent), not bubbles that glowed-in-the-dark (phosphorescent), but actually bubbles that glowed-of-their-own-accord (chemiluminescent), or so the package claimed.  $3.99 later, I was the proud owner of a bottle of this magic elixir.

Later that night, well after dark, Rosa and I carefully followed the instructions, adding the two included packets of “activator A” and “activator B” to the bubble soap, and stirring (not shaking!) for a minute.  Lo and behold, the little bottle began to glow bright orange, like the innards of a glow stick!

Excited, we dipped the wand in the glowing solution, and blew some bubbles!  In the cold, dark, winter night, they looked like this:

…nothing.  Blackness.

We tried and tried, and sure enough, after a while from the right angle, for a fleeting second, you could see that the bubbles had a tiny glim of light.  But in practice, the drips of bubble solution that fell on the ground far outshone the bubbles themselves, and the full bottle itself was the brightest thing around.  There was no hope of getting enough light out of it to photograph them.

The directions (inside the package!) point all this out.  They tell you to cover the (clear) bottle with black tape or a black bag, and to let your eyes fully adjust to the dark to see the glowing bubbles.  Any other nearby light will drown out the few photons escaping from the bubbles themselves.  Also of note: the instructions repeat several times that these are for outdoor use only.

So, do they glow?  Technically, yes.  Practically, no.  You cannot get a good, satisfying, “glowing bubble” from this bubble solution.  On the other hand, it is pretty nifty to have a bottle of bubble solution that’s glowing in your hand while you’re blowing bubbles.  Fun?  Kinda.  Worth $3.99?  Not for regular use.  Worth trying once?  Yep, and I’m glad we did.

-Mark

Updated April 4, 2012: Here’s a video of some Occupy folks experimenting with adding the contents of a chemical glow stick to some bubble soap.  They got more or less the same results I did, but by a different route.  Clearly, we need some SUPER glow chemicals…