Introduction: LED Bubble Wrap Balls

About: More than 14 pulsating exhibits make the Children's Museum of Houston one of the top rated in the country. Packed with daily activities and invigorating performances, it’s the place where minds come out to pl…

Make a ball that glows in the dark!

This is one of the 48 projects for our Instructables: Made In Your Mind (IMIYM) exhibition at the Children’s Museum of Houston showing from May 26, 2012 - November 4, 2012. Produced in partnership with Instructables, IMIYM is an exhibit where families work together to build different fun, toy-like projects that help construct knowledge and skills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while instilling a “do-it-yourself” attitude in kids so they feel empowered to explore, tinker, and try to make things themselves. To learn more, check out the article here.

For this project, we were inspired by the LED Bubble Balls Instructable created by ProfMuggs, but there may be others on Instructables that are also similar. Often, the materials and process for building our projects are designed for use with a large number of visitors (we see over 800,000 annually) and the need to ensure safety in a mostly non-facilitated environment. So, yes, many of these projects have room for improvement in both materials and methodology, which is PRECISELY what we want to encourage the kids to do. So please do share your ideas for improvement and modifications!

Step 1: What You Need

We are selective in our materials for cost, ease of use, and safety due to our high traffic (800,000 visitors annually). So, for our purposes, this design worked best. But you may have other ideas - please share!
  • 1 - CR2032 Coin Battery (available at most stores, but we purchase ours in bulk from Batteries and Butter)
  • 1 - LED (available at Radio Shack, etc., but we purchase ours in bulk from Leading LEDs)
  • 1 - 12” x 12” Piece of bubble wrap (we get ours in bulk from U-Line, but you probably have some lying around somewhere you can use. If not, go buy yourself something nice and use THAT bubble wrap :-)
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Step 2: The Video

We offer optional video segments of each step for this project in the actual exhibit. Here is a compilation of all the steps.

Step 3: Step 1 - Fold the Bubble Wrap

With the bubble side up, fold the bottom right corner of the bubble wrap to the center. Fold the other three corners to center. Tape the corners together in the center. Roll the bubble wrap into a tube and tape the seam so it doesn't unroll.

Step 4: Step 2 - Roll the Bubble Wrap

Roll the bubble wrap into a tube and tape the seam so it doesn't unroll.

Step 5: Step 3 - Prepping the LED

Find the long and the short wire coming off the LED. Slide the LED over the battery with the long wire on the “+” side of the battery and the short wire on the other side of the battery. If the LED doesn’t light up, try flipping the battery over before taping. Use masking tape to tightly tape the short wire from the LED to the back of the battery, leaving a space of wire close to the LED free. Bend the long wire slightly away from the “+” side of the battery.

Step 6: Step 4 - Putting It All Together

With the long wire facing up, tape the short lead from the LED down to one end of the bubble wrap tube. Starting at the end with the LED, roll the bubble wrap from the left to the right to form a smaller ball shape. Gently squeeze the ball and make sure the LED turns on. If not, adjust the LED and re-roll the ball. Tape the ball shut so the LED is just barely off.

Step 7: To Use

To use, squeeze the bubble wrap ball to turn on the LED. It looks best in the dark. You can even add velcro tape so you can turn it "on" or "off" by adjusting how tight the velcro is.

For an educational environment: the LED Bubble Wrap Ball works because of the “squeeze switch” inside.  In order for any electrical circuit to work, it needs three parts: a power source (battery), a path for energy to flow (leads), and an output (LED). The circuit inside the Bubble Ball is open (or “off”) until you squeeze it and press the long lead to the battery. This closes (or turns “on”) the circuit, allowing the electrical energy to flow from the battery through the leads to the LED, turning on the light. Also, the LED Bubble Wrap Ball lights up nicely because the light undergoes refraction and diffusion as it passes through the bubble wrap.

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