Wood Magic Science Fair ™

The Wood Magic Science Fair™ (WMSF) is an exciting and innovative program for 3rd and 4th grade students. It seeks to educate students about the tremendous importance of wood and wood products to each of us individually and to the economy of the nation. The WMSF is an attempt to change some of the common misconceptions concerning the depletion of trees and to improve the visibility of the forest products industries and emphasize their status as environmental conservators. The WMSF originated at the Forest Products Laboratory, (now the Department of Sustainable Bioproductss), Forest and Wildlife Research Center at Mississippi State University.

Students are taught that wood is renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, and durable, and that we are currently growing more trees today in the United States than ever before. They participate in hands-on experiments such as making plywood and paper, and testing the strength of wood. Since its inception, the Wood Magic program has been presented to over 150,000 participants.

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WMSF Program Details

The following events are often featured at a typical Wood Magic program. Many of these events are also featured as part of the mobile classroom presentation:

Image Alternative Text: Industry Exhibits

Industry Exhibits

The WMSF is made possible by the generous support of numerous industry partners and by the cooperation of all departments of the College of Forest Resources. Students may get to meet "Smoky Bear", or take part in special demonstrations by the departments of forestry or wildlife & fisheries.

Image Alternative Text: House Film

House Film

The Fair officially begins for each class with the House film, a catchy, upbeat 10-minute film (narrated by a tree) that teaches: 1) how all parts of the tree are used in constructing a house; 2) that 25 trees are used in the construction of an average home; and 3) how five trees are planted for every tree harvested.

  • House, a Child's Guide to the Origin of Everday Stuff. Odyssey Productions, Inc., Portland, Oregon.
  • This is a must-see film and sets the stage for everything else.
Image Alternative Text: Sawmill Station

Sawmill Station

The Sawmill station lets students see a portable sawmill cut eastern red cedar logs into lumber. Students learn about heartwood and sapwood and are given blocks of the the cut-up lumber.

  • Demonstrate sawing of wood into lumber.
  • Best to use a highly colored wood with good scent like a cedar.
  • Cut boards into small pieces to give to students
  • Show heartwood/sapwood differences, defects, etc.
  • Tell how residues are used so that when cut, nothing is wasted.
Image Alternative Text: Wood Sandwich and Particleboard

Wood Sandwich & Particleboard

The Wood Sandwich station is where students learn how plywood is made by comparing it to a grilled-cheese sandwich. They get a chance to test how strong they are by breaking a veneer and then trying to break an assembled piece of plywood. Students may also make a "Rice Krispy treat" (particleboard) by combining "cereal" (wood particles) with "marshmallows" (resin). Students learn about the many uses and strength of particleboard.

Wood Sandwich

  • Use small Carver Press, 6-inch veneer squares, paper glue line, cut to 6 inches square.
  • Demonstrate directional strength in veneers by flexing.
  • Let a student break a veneer into three pieces along the grain (use this sample when making plywood).
  • Unroll paper towel for veneer cutting analogy (works well if growth rings are drawn on end of roll).
  • Use small post cutoff as veneer bolt and place in bowl of water. Ask what happens when heated - - draw analogy to rice. Idea is to get student to understand softening by hot water.
  • Build a plywood sample using analogy of grilled cheese sawdwich: veneer = bread, glue = cheese, platen = hot skillet, press = spatula.
  • Press, allow to cool, and show strength difference
  • Idea is to illustrate effect of crossbanding, strength in different directions.


  • Resin, furnish, Carver Press, forming box.
  • Mix resin, furnish and press.
  • Draw analogy to making a rice krispy treat (rice = furnish, marshmallow = resin).
  • Show other composite products and how strength is engineered via flake alignment.
Image Alternative Text: Wildlife Exhibits

Wildlife Exhibits

Students learn all about white-tailed deer and other wildlife that inhabit Mississippi forests.

Image Alternative Text: Chem-Is-Tree


The Chem-Is-Tree (chemistry) shows students how chemicals made from wood, how charcoal is made, the differences between safety film and old movie film, and other chemical uses of wood.

  • Set up a pyrolysis unit and explain how charcoal is made.
  • Ignite gas coming from unit.
  • Ignite cellulose nitrate film (explain how old film would burn and hence we have no old movie houses left). Compare with cellulose acetate safety film. Light it to show difference.
  • Mention rayon as a derived produce in dresses, tires, etc.
  • Cellulose acetate films can be made here also.
Image Alternative Text: Rock Stars

Rock Stars

Participants always enjoy an event called Rock Stars where they guess how much weight a tensile specimen the size of pencil lead can hold before it breaks. The load is increased by pouring rocks into a bucket supported by the sample.

  • Device to hang necked-down tension sample. Hook on both ends to accommodate bucket. Scale, gravel, tension samples, extra weights.
  • Nect sample down to pencil lead size and load bucket with rocks. Before you begin, ask students to guess how much weight the sample will hold. Load until failure.
  • Illustrate strength of wood along grain.
  • Hold bucket so it does not twist and break sample; we augment rocks with lead bricks since failure usually requires more than 100#.
Image Alternative Text: Termites


This event provides some understanding of basic biology in a fun format, as "trained" termites follow ink of a given color (actually they follow a chemical pheromone trail).

  • Termites, pens with solvent similar to pheromone (old government pens work well). Beforehand, use trial and error to determine which ink termites will follow. In demo, draw name with this ink.
  • Using different color and type of pen, draw a different name and say you have trained termites to follow only blue, etc.
  • Explain trick and relate to biology.
Image Alternative Text: Daily Wood, Papermaking, Bubbling Bazookas

Daily Wood, Papermaking, Bubbling Bazookas

Daily Wood teaches the students how much wood is consumed by each of us daily and shows the varies uses made of wood. Importantly, students are told the success story of reforestation, and much of the misinformation regarding the history and coverage of our forests is debunked. Teachers are given resource materials and contact information for useful teaching aids. Students help presenters make paper at the Papermaking station. The program is usually capped off with a demonstration of wood properites, including density, hardness, and permeability at the Bubbling Bazookas event where students turn small red oak billets into bubble blowers. A competition crowns the "champion of the tent" for having the longest bubble stream.

Daily Wood

  • Using map, explain that central U.S. was alway a plain (no "Great Forest"); Tie more wood today to replanting (5 to 1) and control of fire.
  • Daily wood consumption in U.S. = 5.5 lbs/person. Remainder of world uses 1/3 of that amount. Illustrate with wood discs.
  • Continue with examples of many wood products including paper, etc.
  • Artificial vanilla extract, ice cream and toothpaste thickners are crowd-pleasers.
  • Idea is to tie consumption to things they use everyday and are familiar with. (Do you ever go to McDonalds? They serve you a burger wrapped in a tree (paper), drink comes in a tree, napkin made from tree, put in a bag made from a tree).
  • Show example of each use.


  • Pulp (tissue+water+blender); frames - one with screening, nylon or plastic mesh, paper towels (brown), rolling pin, iron, felt, plywood support, big tub.
  • Use soda straws held tightly and then released to illustrate pulping.
  • Pour pulp into big tub and dilute; tell students you are simulating a Fourdrinier.
  • Assemble handsheet maker (screened frame+mesh+unscreened frame).
  • Let student make handsheet.
  • Remove mesh with white paper handsheet.
  • Place on felt, with brown paper on top.
  • Have students press paper towel with palms to saturate.
  • Carefully peel towel off mesh, handsheet will adhere.
  • Ask why handsheet is white, towel is brown (bleach-analogy = t-shirt).
  • Ask for volunteer who has made homemade biscuits; place towel on handsheet and let her roll to squeeze out more water.
  • End by ironing handsheet with towel over top, peel off paper and give to classes.
  • Ask if volunteers hands are sticky: No - then no glue so how did fibers stick (must be MAGIC).

Bubbling Bazookas

  • Ask how trees are different (color, bark, size, fruit, etc.).
  • If different on outside, how about inside.
  • Illustrate by passing air through white and red oak (woods look same but different on inside) using the setup of an air compressor with air fittings on the end of both a piece of white and red oak and a glove on the opposite end. The glove will inflate on the red oak, hence the "Thing" (from the Addams family).
  • Indicate different uses for the two oaks based on properties.
  • Show differences in other properties with examples (balsa vs. oak - - hardness; walnut vs. maple - - color; cocobola vs. balsa - - density; etc.).
  • Pass out small red oak billets.
  • Dip end in bubble soap.
  • Blow.
  • Give prizes to those with longest bubble streams. (puzzles, wooden yo-yos, etc.)
  • Be sure to tell them to mark the end they blew on (wash their own mouth out with soap otherwise).
  • This is a show stopper and should be done at the end. Let teachers help with this one.