Year 3 Science

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Antonj van Leeuwenhoek's Magnifying Marbles


In What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, we learn about microscopes and magnifying things to make them appear bigger. After reading about the scientist Antonj van Leeuwenhoek [AN-tonn-ee fon LAY-vun-hook], let's try an experiment with magnifying things ourselves, just like he did. Van Leeuwenhoek read about microscopes and found a quick way of making lenses from tiny, clear glass marbles.

Find some clear, glass marbles of different sizes. You can find marbles in most children’s toy shops including the Early Learning Centre, or you can buy some like these online. Ideally, the marbles will be completely clear, without colours, swirls or bubbles inside them. (The 'bubble marbles' we purchased online had just a few air bubbles trapped inside, but the bag of marbles was large enough that we could choose to use the ones with no bubbles in our experiment.)

marbles magnified 1

Once you have your clear marbles, open the pages of a book like What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know. First select a large marble and place it directly on top of some of the text in the book. What do you see? Do you notice that some of the letters of the text directly under your marble look extremely large when seen through the marble? Now try moving your marble away from the page and looking through it as you hold it steady. What happens now?

Next, choose a smaller marble and try the same thing. Do you notice anything different? You might have noticed, like van Leeuwenhoek, that the smaller marble makes things look bigger. Can you find an even smaller marble? Try looking through the smallest marble you have. What do you notice? The marble is a sphere, it curves. You should be able to see clearly if you look through the centre of the marble. If you look through the sides of the marble, what you see might look fuzzy, or to use the scientific word, what you see is 'distorted'. What do you notice if you put the marble over a picture? Can you see the little dots of ink that were used to print the picture?

marbles magnified 2

Van Leeuwenhoek built many microscopes with lenses that he built because of what he learned from his experiments about magnifying things.

This activity supplements the content on pages 320 - 321 of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

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