Light is a fascinating subject. Many scientists spend their entire career studying light and how it works. Light refraction is a complicated scientific concept, but the bending a pencil science activity makes it a little easier for kids to understand this concept.
This simple science activity is something you can do when you’re in a time crunch but still want to get that science lesson in. Learning about light refraction can take weeks, but this activity is the perfect place to start.
Bending a Pencil Science: A Lesson in Light Refraction
Learn about light refraction with just two simple materials! It’s so easy, but illustrates a basic, important scientific principle.
You’ll need just a few things for this project:
- Mason jar or other glass cup
- Pencil (bonus points for a fun one!)
Fill the jar half-way with water. If you fill it too much, the bend is not as apparent. In fact, you can play around with different levels of water to see how that influences the light refraction.
Put the pencil in the water.
Look at it from the top. It’s straight all the way down.
Look at it from the side. It’s suddenly crooked!
Bending a Pencil Science Explained
Light refraction occurs when something gets in the way of the light waves. Light, like most other materials, travels mainly in waves (although it can also have particles, which is a whole other lesson!). Because the light can’t travel as quickly in the water as it does in the air, the light bends around the pencil, causing it to look bent in the water. Basically, the light refraction gives the pencil a slight magnifying effect, which makes the angle appear bigger than it actually is, causing the pencil to look crooked.
You can illustrate this principle by having your kids run their hands through the air. It’s easy. But when you try to run your flat hand through water, it’s a little harder. Light also has to work a little harder to get through water.
What other light activities can you try with your kids after doing this one? Share your ideas with us!