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Sprouting science in a shoebox

This article appeared in the January 6, 2012 edition of the Davis Enterprise

By Lisa Justice

Special to the Enterprise

Because plants get so much of their energy from sunlight, they will go to extraordinary lengths to grow in the direction of sun.  You can test this for yourself by growing a potato in a shoebox.

You will need: a potato, a knife, a cup of water, some toothpicks, a shoebox, small pieces of cardboard or other objects like toilet paper tubes or spools.

First, you need to get your potato to sprout.

Cut a chunk from your potato, but make sure it has an eye.  Stick some toothpicks in your potato chunk like spokes coming out of the center of a wheel.  Use the toothpicks to balance your chunk in a cup of water.

The water will help your chunk to sprout, but you don’t want to completely cover your chunk with water because then it will rot.  Use the toothpicks to make your chunk hang over the center of the cup, then fill the cup with water about half way up the potato.  Place your cup in a sunny window and give your potato a couple of days to sprout.

In the meantime construct a maze in your shoebox to challenge your potato as it grows.  First make sure there is a hole about the size of a quarter at one end of your box for the light to come through.  This will be the goal your potato will try to reach as it navigates your maze.

At the opposite side of the box you’ll want to save a spot to put your potato once it sprouts.  The challenge will be for the potato to make its way across the dark box to the one source of light.

Now use your small pieces of cardboard or other objects to see if you can trick your potato into growing away from the light.  You can make walls with the cardboard, or create a dead end.  You can set up a toilet paper tube to get your potato to grow through it or over it.

Just remember that your potato needs light to grow and it is always going to be seeking that light source.  So make sure that there is at least a quarter-sized opening for your potato to grow through so it has a chance to make it all the way to the other side of the box.

Once your maze is done and your potato is sprouted, remove your potato from its cup of water and place it in the box at the opposite end from the light source.  Put the lid on the box to make sure that your potato is in darkness except for the one hole letting in light.

Check on your potato every few days to see how well it is navigating the maze and reaching for the light.  Once your potato successfully weaves its way all the way across the box, you can plant it in a garden and grow a whole new crop.


Explorit’s coming events:

• Explorit’s newest Exhibition, “Forces of Nature” is open the first Saturday and Sunday of every month from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  This exhibition is at 3141 5th Street and features some of the best of Explorit’s past exhibits.


Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. and is open to the public every first Saturday and Sunday of the month.  For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit, or “like” us on Facebook at

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