Science of Snow Globes
DIY snow globes are a fun way to use arts & crafts to learn about density, displacement, and viscosity. A typical snow globe contains some sort of liquid, plus a material to act as the “snow”. When shaken and flipped, the “snow” makes its way to the bottom – just like a snowfall! The snowfall inside a globe looks more realistic when it falls gently down from the top. The inventors of the snow globe swear by their secret snow recipe for creating realistic scenes inside their globes. Brainstorm some ideas for what materials to use for your snow recipe. Choosing the right material for snow is important, as is the liquid it falls through. Glitter is common. What about confetti? Styrofoam? Soap shavings? Sawdust?
Setting up your Workspace
For both experiments and projects, keep an organized and tidy work space to be able to observe results and record observations.
- Read through the instructions for the entire project.
- Gather materials for each step as needed.
- Find a secure place to allow the globe to cool or cure without disturbance.
DIY Snow Globe Materials
Start by asking kids what materials might be needed to create a snow globe.. Brainstorm ideas for what kinds of objects can be used to create a wintery scene inside the globe. Old toys and recycled materials are good options, as well as polymer clay which can be used to construct a unique scene.
- Glass jar with a lid
- Polymer clay
- Polymer clay glue
- Aluminum foil
- Toys, dollhouse miniatures, or other recycled material for creating the scene inside the globe
- Hot glue gun
- Clear nail polish
- Distilled water
- Glycerin (available at drug stores)
- Glitter of different sizes and other potential materials for snow
- Waterproof silicone sealant (from a hardware store)
In order to let all the parts of this project properly dry and cure, this DIY snow globe project may take several days to complete. Throughout the project, there are two quick experiments that can be done at any point to boost the science fun and learning behind the snow globes.
Learn about viscosity (how easily liquid flows) and density (how compact a material is) in this kitchen experiment.
- Materials for “snow” (glitter, confetti, styrofoam, etc.)
- Place two jars side by side. Put a tablespoon of the same snow material in each jar.
- Fill both jars with distilled water so that they’re nearly full.
- Add a ½ teaspoon of glycerin to only one jar.
- Tightly close the jars with lids and have kids shake up both jars to see which combination does a better job of recreating falling, drifting snow.
- Note any interesting observations. Is the “snow” falling at the same rate in the two jars? If you used material in varying sizes (like cut up styrofoam), do some pieces seem to be falling faster or slower than others? Why do you think this is?
- What happens when you add more glycerin to the jar containing the water and glycerin mixture? Add more glycerin into the jar in ½ teaspoon increments, recording the best amount for realistic snowfall.
The Science Involved
What’s going on? Adding glycerin to the water increases the viscosity of the mixture, meaning it flows more slowly. This ultimately gets in the way and slows down the falling snow pieces, which is why the same snow material might fall slower in the glycerin-water mixture than plain water. Smaller pieces still move faster than larger pieces, which get more encumbered.
Density plays a part as well. Density means how much something weighs for a given volume of it. Glycerin is denser than plain water, so a glycerin-water mixture will also be denser. Materials with a much greater density than the surrounding mixture fall faster, while materials with less density or the same density fall slower or not at all.
Creating good snowfall requires adding viscosity and density to water with glycerin and picking a snow material with a similar density to the liquid. Record observations and save the recipe for the best snow material (maybe it’s a combination of materials?) combined with the right mixture of glycerin and water.
The DIY Snow Globe Scene
Create a fun, wintery scene to affix to the inside of the jar lid. Remember, the scene should be narrow enough to fit through the mouth of the jar and short enough to comfortably fit inside the jar when closed.
- Aluminum foil
- Polymer clay
- Bake & bond polymer glue
- Clear nail polish
- Hot glue gun
- Create a Base
- Tightly ball up a sheet of aluminum foil.
- Roll out a sheet of polymer clay to wrap around the aluminum foil.
- This creates a raised base inside of the globe where you can glue on found and recycled items or mini polymer sculptures.
- Use polymer clay to sculpt winter and holiday objects within your DIY snow globe. Brainstorm objects to sculpt: candy canes, snow men, present boxes, Christmas trees, etc.
- Test the scene to make sure it will fit in the globe by gently placing the jar over the items.
Baking & Sealing
Polymer clay needs to be baked before going inside the DIY snow globe. Gather up the clay items for baking.
- Clay items can be glued together with polymer glue before going into the oven.
- Bake the clay wrapped aluminum foil base and any polymer pieces at 275 degrees for 20 minutes.
- Let the clay cool completely.
- Once cooled, plastic toys and other items can be hot glued to the base. Parents should be in charge of the hot glue gun.
- Coat the entire scene with clear nail polish to protect it.
- Leave the coated scene for 48 hours to cure completely.
Learn about water displacement in preparation for the final snow globe assembly. Water displacement is a fun way to gauge how much volume, or space, an object takes up. It’s usually measured by dropping a solid object into a container of water and tracking how far the water level rises.
- Any collection of objects that will fill the jar in increments: marbles, rocks, small toys, wooden beads
- Towel & baking sheet or other tray to keep water contained
Make a guess about what will happen to the water when objects are dropped into the jar. How many marbles will it take to get the water to the top of the jar?
- Fill the jar halfway with water. Place a towel on the baking sheet or tray and place the jar on top.
- On a piece of paper, guess how many marbles are needed to get the water to the top of the jar.
- Begin dropping marbles into the jar.
- Keep a tally for each of the marbles placed into the jar.
- Once the water reaches the top, count the tally marks. How close was the guess? Is it more or less or equal to the original guess?
With this experiment, you’re measuring the volume of the marbles. When the marbles sink in water, they displace – or push – the water upward. The amount of water they push is always equal to the marbles’ volume, so if you tracked the rise in water, you just successfully measured their volume! This same principles are used to weigh things like giant ships that would otherwise be super difficult to put on a scale.
Bring all the pieces together to create a realistic and lasting DIY snow globe.
- Jar with lid
- Sealed scene (on polymer clay base)
- Water & glycerin mixture
- Hot glue gun
- Silicone waterproof sealant
- Baking sheet or tray (to catch overflow of water)
- Using the hot glue gun, adhere the snow mound to the inside of the lid. Dry test the fit to make sure the jar will still fit over the scene.
- Place the jar right side up on a towel on a baking sheet. Don’t forget about water displacement! Water will flow out of the jar as the globe is assembled, thanks to the space the snow mound takes up.
- Scoop snow material into bottom of the jar, following your favorite combination of materials from the Quick Experiment.
- Pour in the water and glycerin mixture to the top of the jar.
- Around the lip of the jar, put a line of waterproof silicone sealant so the jar will seal shut and won’t leak.
- Tightly screw the lid onto the jar.
- Using the towel, wipe off excess water and silicone from the outside of the jar.
- Give the globe a good shake!