Thursday, February 15, 2018

Optical Illusion Science Experiment & Science Book

Hands-on optical illusion science experiments! We are loving this kind of science project because my favorite new publishing company released a children's book this year introducing the woman who developed a laser to treat eye cataracts! More on that in a moment!

Patricia Bath is an amazing role model in so many ways! She is an African-American woman who overcame all kinds of challenges to become an ophthalmologist who patented record-breaking technology to treat cataracts and eye cancer! The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes introduces her story to children with friendly pictures and catchy rhymes. (Amazon affiliate link below:)

To celebrate our new obsession with everything related to eyes, I'm excited to welcome Eva from to share a fun, hands-on optical illusion you can do with your kids or students! And, as a bonus, it includes math too!

Here's Eva:

You know it when you see it.

A science project for your little kids that is just right. It’s simple but engaging. It requires minimum preparation. It involves no mess. It teaches something valuable. It offers quality time together. In other words, it’s perfect.

I have one of those science experiments for you today. Using only a ruler, pipe cleaners, and scissors, your kids will create their own optical illusion that they can use to trick their siblings and grandparents.

Start by using a marker to draw two equal lines on a piece of paper, one under the other. Add outward-pointing arrows to one line and inward-facing arrows to the next one, like this:

Ask, are the lines the same length?

Chances are that your child will state that the inward pointing line is longer, even though he/she probably watched you draw two equal lines!

Next, draw two vertical lines to demonstrate your point.

Let your kids know that optical illusions are deceptive for a reason. Let’s talk about that reason! (You also can save the explanation for after you have made your optical illusion with pipe cleaners.)

Why your eyes play tricks on you

Our eyes see millions of things each day. To process so much incoming information, our brains create shortcuts. It makes gathering information easier and quicker. But sometimes we get things wrong. What we see can be at odds with the actual reality. Scientists have discovered that it has less to do with our eyes and more to do with how the brain works.

Illusions help scientists better understand how visual processing works and how to make our lives safer. Here is an example we like: Chicago, where we live, is located along Lake Michigan. A long highway, Lake Shore Drive, runs along the lake from one side of town to the other. Visual illusions are used on Lake Shore Drive so there will be fewer accidents. It’s done by painting road stripes closer together on the sharpest part of a dangerous curve. This trick creates an illusion of speeding up so that drivers slow down and, hopefully, pass the curve without flying into the lake.

Food for thought

Do you think it might be cool to be a scientist whose job it is to study optical illusions and how they can help people live better lives?

Follow along to create your own optical illusion!

Make an optical illusion!

What you need
     2 pipe cleaners (different colors would be better)


1.    Cut a pipe cleaner in half and measure the two pieces to make sure they are of equal length.

2.    Cut the other pipe cleaner in four equal pieces.  You can measure these shorter pieces for fun, but it’s not necessary since the longer pieces we made in the above step are the focus of this experiment. 

3.    Take one of the shorter pieces. Bend it in half and wrap the end of a longer piece around the middle of it. Do the same thing with the other side and bend the short pipe-cleaner ends down so that they look like an arrow.

4.    Repeat step 3, but bend the short pipe-cleaner ends up so they look like a letter V pointing inward.

5.    Place the finished pieces one under the other. What do you think about the red lines now? Are they the same or a different length? You can use a ruler to measure the red lines. Or simply put one line on top of another to see that they are actually equal in length.

6.    Now it’s time to test your illusion on family members!

Words to use

Optical illusion, visual processing, vertical lines, inches (or centimeters), measurement

In conclusion

At times, what our eyes see and the actual properties of objects do not match. When that happens, we call it a visual or optical illusion. Today we made our own visual illusion with this fun science project. Even though the red lines are the same length, they appear different due to the effects of the arrows. Do you know any other optical illusion science experiments?   

Thank you so much, Eva! I especially love how the kids can pick up their optical illusion, carry it around, and show it to people! Eva also wrote an activity about dilating pupils here and you can see more of her science lessons here!

I also have TONS of science activities and another DIY optical illusion here! And you will love my STEM Project of the Week Curriculum!

Eva is a homeschooling mom of four living in Chicago.  She blogs about mindful parenting and creative learning at Kid Minds (

Happy Educating,

I may share at any of these parties!

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