This summer I’ve got the luxurious job of camp counselor.  Anyone who has worked with kids before knows the preceding statement is a lie.  My job, though frequently rewarding, is taxing, aggravating, and sometimes even emotionally draining (I’m looking at you, eight year olds playing astronomy Jeopardy).  Occasionally however, my job is very, very fun.

At camp, we try to mix up the activities from didactic to diversionary, with the effect that the day is less pedagogical/more fun than school but more structured/less chaotic than just daycare.  The activities range from the very academic (“let’s dissect a Furby to see how its circuitry works – oh look it has resistors and capacitors just like the snap circuits we made”) to the essentially filler.  One such filler activity was last week’s astronomy camp’s Diet Coke and Mentos.  We wanted to talk to the kids a bit about how rocket fuel depends upon quick reactions (and of course, we always tell them that everything we do is wholly scientific), but really we just wanted to shoot something high in the air and make a mess.

And oh, how we accomplished that second goal.

It started innocently enough: set up the experiment, get the kids jived on the imminent explosion of sugar water.  But then we hit a small snag.  The plastic tube meant for delivering the candy to the soda had become disassembled and my co-worker could not figure out how to put it together.  Taking it from her and staring at it with all the consummate knowledge granted me by my years as an engineer, I determined that the Mentos had to go in first, and then the plastic pin replaced for pulling.  After swiftly completing this maneuver, I noticed that one extraneous piece of plastic remained.

Of course, I did what any self-respecting scientist would do at this point, with an extra piece and no directions: I shrugged and dropped the extra piece to the ground.  How could this piece even be needed?  I reasoned it was perhaps an adapter for different kinds of bottles.  At any rate I quickly fastened the plastic tube to the soda bottle and asked the kids if they were ready.  Their screams of excitement granted affirmation and we counted down the seconds to launch.

The next few moments are burned vividly into my memory, replaying themselves every so often for my enjoyment/humiliation.

3! … 2! … 1! Blast off!

I effortlessly pull the pin, separating the only obstruction between us and the explosion. The Mentos drop flawlessly into the soda, which subsequently stars to churn.  Soda makes its way to the top of the bottle, out the hole in the plastic tube . . . and out of the side holes left by the pin’s exit.  The holes which, incidentally were not being covered by the plastic piece whose true purpose I surmise with agony as soon as I see the horizontal jets of soda now streaking for surprised campers.

The resulting image is priceless: one tall vertical geyser of Diet Coke going largely unnoticed by the eighteen campers fixated on getting sprayed by the small, sticky jets squirting out at the kids’ eye-level.  Screams of delight as one kid’s sweatshirt is soaked brown by flat soda.  Pure pandemonium for five to ten seconds followed by a shout of “Again!!”

We have a quick talk about how science doesn’t always go as planned and prep a second bottle with the plastic pin guard.