“How do we reset the storm glass?”

Inquiring Janes want to know: "Did we break it?" (Photo: Shala Howell)

Inquiring Janes want to know: “Did we break it?” (Photo: Shala Howell)

Last week, we tested our storm glass to see whether the crystals were forming (or dissolving) in response to changes in temperature. Short answer: Yes.

But as you’ll remember, at the end of the experiment we were left with a pretty thick collection of grainy crystals at the bottom of the glass. This collection persisted for at least a week after the storm glass was back in its regular spot in our office.

Frankly, it made me worry a bit that we’d broken it. The ever-practical Nine-Year-Old suggested that we try to reset it.

What does it mean to reset a storm glass?

In this case, we mean turning the liquid in the glass completely clear, and then returning it to its home environment to see what happens.

How do you reset a storm glass? 

Since the crystals formed at cooler temperatures and dissolved at higher ones, we decided a steady application of high heat was called for.  Mommyo ruled out using fire, so we decided to try using a hair dryer instead.

Our Hypothesis

If we apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass for long enough, all of the crystals will dissolve, effectively resetting the storm glass for use in future experiments.

Our Equipment

The equipment requirements for this experience were pretty straight-forward. To conduct it, we needed:

  • The storm glass itself
  • Thermometer
  • Digital camera to record crystal formations
  • Mommyo’s hair dryer

Step 1: Photograph the storm glass at the beginning of the experiment.

Those giant fern crystals were so pretty I almost canceled the experiment this morning outright. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Those giant fern crystals were so pretty, I almost canceled the experiment this morning outright. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Step 2: Apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass.

Plan A: Use a hair dryer to apply a steady source of heat to the storm glass.

This didn’t work at all. The crystal formation barely budged, Mommyo quickly tired of holding the hair dryer, and The Nine-Year-Old got bored.

We needed a better plan.

Plan B: Set the storm glass up in front of the space heater in the kitchen. Have The Nine-Year-Old sit in the kitchen monitoring the storm glass while eating a snack and reading a book. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Although the space heater was only set to 73F, our thermometer told us that the space heater warmed the air around the storm glass to 85F.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Step 3: After 15 minutes, the crystals were almost gone, but not quite, so The Nine-Year-Old reset the timer for 2 minutes.

The Results: 

After 17 minutes in front of the space heater, all of the crystals had dissolved. So we returned the storm glass to its home in the office.

Success! (Photo: Shala Howell)

Success! (Photo: Shala Howell)

All seemed lovely, until Mommyo walked into the office two hours later to write up this experiment and found this.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

Oops. (Photo: Shala Howell)

The Nine-Year-Old and I had expected crystals to form when the storm glass cooled, but neither of us had expected anything this dramatic. We thought it would take a couple of days for crystals to show up, and that when they did, they’d be in the lovely fern shapes we’d had this morning.

In hindsight, though, perhaps we should have expected this.  After all, we knew from our earlier experiment that the crystals form in response to drops in temperature. By turning off the space heater and moving the still-warm storm glass to the office shelf to cool, we were effectively lowering its ambient temperature nearly as rapidly as that day we set the storm glass outside the window in 29F weather.

So have we broken it now? 

Broken being a relative term, of course, given the faulty predictive capabilities of our storm glass in its best days.

I guess what I really mean is, will our storm glass ever have enough room it in again for the lovely ferns to form? I certainly hope so. I miss those ferns.

All we can do now, though, is wait a few days and see what happens. We’ll keep you posted.

Related Links: 



About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
This entry was posted in Can we do that sometime?, Experiments, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “How do we reset the storm glass?”

  1. Pingback: “How do storm glasses work?” Part Two: The Testing | CATERPICKLES

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  3. Pingback: Wordless Wednesday: Our storm glass is finally back to normal | CATERPICKLES

  4. Pingback: Another year gone already? | CATERPICKLES

  5. If you put it outside for a week or so it should re-equilibrate to the cycle of local weather conditions. Keep in mind that chemistry is slower at cold temperatures, so it may take some time. At worst, leave it outside for the next year. The cycle through summer and back to winter should fix everything.


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