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Summer Brain Games

Experiment: Kaleidoscope

Chances are you looked in the mirror today, but have you ever thought about how your reflection appears? Reflections are visible when light bounces off a smooth, shiny surface and back into your eyes. But what happens when you look at the reflection of a mirror… in another mirror? Let’s build a kaleidoscope to find out! 

Materials 

Cardboard
Mylar (like from an emergency blanket)
Ruler
Tape
White paper
Scissors
Glue
Pencil
Markers 

Instructions 

1. Cut a piece of cardboard into a 6-by-6-inch square. Cut the Mylar into a 6-by-6-inch square. 

2. Determine which side of the Mylar is shinier, and glue the dull side to the cardboard. Try to have as few wrinkles as possible.   

3. Cut the cardboard Mylar into three rectangles that are each 2 inches by 6 inches. 

    4. Line up the cardboard pieces next to each other on a table so the long edges are touching and the Mylar side is facing down. Space them so there is a small gap in between each rectangle (about one-eighth of an inch between each one). Tape the rectangles together along the long edges. Make sure there is still a small gap between each.

    5. Flip the cardboard Mylar over, so the shiny Mylar side is now facing up. Keep the middle rectangle flat, and fold the left and right rectangle up from the tape seams so they make a triangle. Tape those two sides together to hold that triangle shape.   

    6. Use markers to draw a design on a piece of white paper that is a little bigger than the open end of the cardboard triangle.   

    7. Cover one end of the kaleidoscope with the paper so the design faces inside and tape it in place. Look through the other end of the kaleidoscope. What patterns do you see?  

    What’s Happening?  

    Everything that we can see either produces or reflects light. Without light, vision wouldn’t be possible. When light hits an object, it is either absorbed, reflected, or travels straight through the object. If an object is rough, the light is reflected in all different directions. When light hits a very smooth object, like a mirror, most of it bounces back. When you look in a mirror the light bouncing off of your face hits the smooth surface of the mirror and bounces directly back into your eyes. This is how you see your reflection!

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