STEM Tuesday — Chemistry ROCKS! — Interview with Author Kathy Ceceri

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Kathy Ceceri about her chemistry-infused book, EDIBLE INVENTIONS: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow. says,”this book is such a great source to explore and learn through science and more.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did Edible Inventions come to be?

Kathy Ceceri: I have to credit my friend Miguel Valenzuela, inventor of the PancakeBot, a kind of 3D printer for making cool designs with pancake batter. I had written two books for Maker Media — Making Simple Robots and Paper Inventions — and gotten good feedback from educators and families looking for low-tech projects to help kids learn about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) concepts. I ran into Miguel at World Maker Faire New York — one of the worldwide celebrations of creativity in tech produced by Maker Media — where I was a speaker, but also casting about for inspiration for my next title. Miguel suggested I focus on food projects, and I roped him into a creating one of them — a hand-powered Lego version of the PancakeBot that lets kids “draw” with icing on cookies. The other projects touch on a wide variety of science and technology, with a heavy emphasis on chemistry, of course!

MKC: What was it like developing all these projects?

Kathy: Like most science experimentation, this one involved a lot of mishap! I spent several days trying to build an edible Rube Goldberg machine that included cucumber slice “dominoes” and a marble run using celery stalks and cherry tomatoes, but in the end it proved too difficult to coordinate all the moving parts. (You can see a test run video here.) More successful was the cardboard box solar oven. After going through several iterations, I finally developed a design that got hot enough to bake a chocolate cake! One of the things I loved about this book (and all my books, really) was learning a bunch of new stuff. For instance, thanks to a tip from another friend, flour expert Amy Halloran, I discovered that housewives used to make their own baking powder from chemicals they got at the local pharmacy. But probably the best part of creating Edible Inventions was getting to eat the results!

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Kathy: My background is as a journalist. Over the years, I’ve written for local newspapers, magazines such as Sesame Street Parent, and websites such as (where I helped create the GeekMom blog) and (now Thoughtco, where I was the Homeschooling Expert). I’ve covered education, child development, history, art, and science — but I’m not an expert in any of those areas. You could say my expertise is in digging up background information research, finding the right people to talk to, and asking the right questions. My real talent is knowing how to distill what I learn into a form that’s easy for anyone to understand.

Kathy Ceceri is the author of over a dozen books of nonfiction for middle grade readers that teach STEAM along with history, geography, literature, and culture. Her hands-on projects have been used in classrooms and enrichment programs across the country and around the globe. Visit Kathy at Crafts for Learning, and follow her on Twitter @kathyceceri for sneak peeks of works in progress and links to her free online tutorials (including how to make Juicy Edible Gel Dots from Edible Inventions)!

I began focusing on STEAM (the “Art” is an important aspect to me!) after educational publisher Nomad Press asked me to do a book on robotics. Because my then-teenage oldest son was exploring robotics at the time as part of his homeschooling studies, I had spent a couple of years jumping on any opportunity to interview robotics engineers and designers. So I already had a good grasp of the basics, and a contact list of experts who were kind enough to let me pick their brains for topics and project ideas. I discovered I really enjoyed the process and I’m good at it, so I’ve continued writing about STEAM topics even after my kids grew up and moved onto other interests!

Today I teach crafts-based electronics and enrichment programs for kids and teens, and present hands-on professional development workshops for teachers and librarians. I’ve also worked with the Girl Scouts of the USA on their recent line of Robotics badges and their first-ever Cyber Challenge, coming this fall. All of these experiences help me keep in touch with what students and educators want to know about STEAM topics and ensure my writing is fresh and relevant.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Kathy: All my books are written for readers with little to no knowledge about the topic. That’s where I am at the start, too. So I can recognize the places where beginners are going to need some hand-holding and encouragement. I always try to relate concepts and techniques to things the reader is already familiar with. With robots, I use familiar materials like cardboard and duct tape. With Edible Inventions, I included a chapter featuring recipes that used standard ingredients and techniques to create unexpected textures and flavors (sort of like Molecular Cuisine, but using things you could find in any supermarket or natural food store). What makes my book different from an ordinary cookbook is that I emphasize the science. How does whipping an egg white turn a gooey liquid into a stiff meringue? Why do juice-flavored gelatin dots change color when you plop them into lemon-lime soda? And what’s the chemical reaction that causes watermelon lemonade to foam up and bubble over when you add a touch of baking soda? Readers get to learn about chemistry while making tasty snacks — what could be better?

MKC: What’s your current project and how are you tackling it?

Kathy: My next book, Bots! from Nomad Press, is an update on my original 2012 book Robotics. It contains several new projects and topics, as well as old favorites. As with every book I write, I try to approach the topic from as many different angles as possible. I firmly believe that showing how science relates to other kinds of creative activities helps bring in people who might not otherwise give it a try. So along with engineering, electronics and programming, there’s a “kitchen chemistry” robotics project that shows you how to make edible, stretchable robot skin! And like most of my projects, it ties into actual research — in this case, researchers who are trying to make inflatable robots that can crawl or slither into hard-to-reach areas. They hope their edible robots could help rescue lost explorers trapped in a cave, for example, and provide nourishment after sending back data about their location. You can see video of my homemade edible inflatable robot here. Bots! comes out in October 2019.


Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Chemistry ROCKS! — Writing Tips & Resources


The crowd chants as the June sun sets on the western horizon. The emcee, DJ “Atom” Mick Orbitals, takes the stage to thunderous applause.

“Ladies and gentlemen…


The crowd explodes with a roar like an alkali metal added to water. 


“Welcome to the Chemistry Rocks Summer World Tour 2019! Let’s rock!”

By via Wikimedia Commons.

STEM Tuesday fans, sit back, relax with your favorite chemically enhanced or brewed beverage and enjoy the show.

Chemistry Rocks!

It really does. Qualitative, quantitative, organic, bio, physical, whatever or whichever, they all rock the scene. From the twitch of a muscle to the Fourth of July fireworks display to the explosion of the LH2 (liquid hydrogen) fuel that propels a rocket into space toward Mars, chemistry is there. Reaction after reaction after reaction occurring all around us every microsecond of every day. Sight, smell, taste, touch (If you think about it, we can also technically go with sound when we consider the neurochemistry involved in processing a sound wave) are all affected by chemistry.

Chemical Fun!

Don’t throw your shoe at me! I realize not everyone has had a positive experience with chemistry. I understand. I’ve been there. The struggle was real. I was only able to dig myself out of a “D” hole in high school chemistry because of the additions I was able to add to my science teacher’s herpetological and ichthyological collections for extra credit on the biology side of his classroom. I washed out of Chemistry 101 as an immature, baseball-playing freshman in college and it took three full semesters to dig out of that hole in my transcript.

Chemistry is hard. It’s one of those sciences that is like a completely foreign language. Like the Tower of Babel, one can be confused, frustrated, and want to throw a shoe at that one person who tries to tell you that chemistry is fun. As with language, once you learn the basics, begin to understand the meanings of the words, and learn to navigate those foreign roads, a whole new world opens up. With chemistry comes a new understanding of the world around us and how it operates. We are able to drive our existence toward a better life.

And where else can you perform experiments where colors change, states of matter are shifted, and there’s a potential for explosions?

Celebrate the Periodic Table! 

In 1869 Mendeleev proposed the first periodic table of elements. That makes the periodic table 150 years old! In my opinion, it looks just a fresh and vibrant at 150 as it did in it’s 20s. Maybe even better! I guess some things get better with age, right? I’ve always marveled at the beauty of the periodic table. Well, I marveled when I finally gave in, buckled down and learned the basics of the periodic table. The periodic table is a masterpiece. Just as The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s, DaVinci the Mona Lisa, Michaelangelo his sculpture of David, chemistry has the periodic table.

Happy Birthday, Periodic Table!

Better Life

Chemistry has made life better.

I’m sitting on my back patio as I write this section. It’s a beautiful early June Saturday morning. Chemistry surrounds me.

  • I see the cat eating his store-bought cat food, which has been optimized through a blend of macro and micronutrients. In other words, chemistry.
  • There’s the gardener table I built from my kids’ old wooden swingset that both got a recent coat of water sealant. Chemistry.
  • The house paint. Chemistry.
  • The cement of the patio. Chemistry.
  • The flowers and vegetables in pots and in the garden which were recently fertilized with BR-61. Chemistry.
  • I just ate a bowl of rice cereal made from a chemistry-based recipe. The peanut butter on my toast is loaded with chemistry. Heck, even the toasting of the bread by electrical heating elements in a closed chamber is chemistry.
  • I’m working at a steel patio table painted with a rust deterrent coating while typing on a laptop that relies on rare earth metals. Tell me that’s not some amazing chemistry!

I could go on and on but the point is this:

We are surrounded by chemical marvels every second of every day.

Chemistry makes our lives better.

Dark Side

There’s little argument as to the benefits chemistry brings to society. But to everything good, there’s always a dark side. The dark side of chemistry often is a result of our attempts to develop a fix to one particular problem without consideration of the entire ramification spectrum. Pesticides that are also potent carcinogens. Pharmaceutical chemicals with side effects that almost override the positive effects or cause addiction. Chemical weapons.

I could go on with examples of chemistry gone wrong but the point remains we need to be more vigilant with the power of chemistry. The current and future generations of chemists need to design chemical solutions with an eye to the long-term effects and cost-benefit of the solution. This particular solution may work to solve the issue BUT what else does it do?

Writing With Chemistry

I was going to title this section, Writing Chemically, but had second thoughts about the unintended connotations associated with that title. Most writers would classify chemistry as something on the opposite end of the creative spectrum than writing. I understand but hear me out before launching the other shoe at my head.

An ionic bond forms between two oppositely charged atoms when an atom with the weaker force donates an electron to the atom with a stronger force. Covalent bonds form between two atoms when they share electrons to fill their outer orbitals. Hydrogen bonds are weaker bonds that form when the partial positive charge of the hydrogen is attracted to a negatively charged atom. When thinking about the interactions between story elements or characters, chemistry provides three good ways to explore these interactions and reactions.

Or how about using the principals of exothermic (heat released) and endothermic (heat absorbed) reactions to move the plot forward in your story? You can also think about character development in the structural terms of chemistry, primary structure, secondary structure, tertiary structure, and quaternary structure. All four structures contain the same basic bits; it’s a matter of increasing the complexity of the model.  

See? The principles of chemistry can help out the writer as well as the chemist. Another win for science!

By Thomas Shafee – Own work. Via Wikimedia Commons

Explore Chemistry!

Bottom line: Give chemistry a chance because it really does rock.

The benefits far outweigh the detriments.

The rewards in understanding the fundamentals of chemistry are well worth the failures, false starts, and frustrations of the learning process.

We are all a whole lot better off with chemistry than without (and it doesn’t even matter if we don’t understand a lick of the science behind it).

Chemistry Rocks!

Now go enjoy the show.

By Ian T. McFarland from Los Angeles, USA via Wikimedia Commons.

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month take a look at close look at chemistry from all angles, from industry to academics to studying for med school. Plus, what’s a look at how Chemistry ROCKS! without a look at the chemistry of rocks?




STEM Tuesday — Chemistry ROCKS! — Book List

It’s time to explore another facet of science…chemistry. This branch of science is more than test tubes and beakers, it is the ways in which substances interact, combine, and change. These books will take kids from the science lab to the kitchen lab and through history to present day discoveries.

The Elements

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

The young readers’ version of Kean’s book of fascinating tales of the periodic table for fans of adventure, history, and of course, science.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Jeanne Bendick, Benjamin Wiker and Ted Schleunderfritz

Although a bit older than most of our suggestions, we feel it’s a worthy read. This absorbing historic look at the mysteries and discoveries of the periodic table will engage middle school and high school readers.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Grey and Nick Mann

A photographic companion to all the books on this list. This visual book will enlighten and inspire science and art enthusiasts. This is a great reference book to keep on your shelf.


A Bit of Chemistry History

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perlious Professions, and Murderous Medicine by Sarah Albee

We’ve included this title on a previous STEM Tuesday list, but it’s too good not to include here. A curious approach to this fun book will leave readers thinking twice about the plants in their garden and the medicines on their shelf.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Marie Curie: The Woman Who Changed the Course of Science by Philip Steele

Dig deep into the life of this important Nobel Prize-winning chemist to inspire and empower young scientists. This biography shares Marie’s school reports and family photos with young readers.



Chemistry Activity Books

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Book of Ingeniously Daring Chemistry: 24 Experiments for Young Scientists by Sean Connolly

Great for a rainy day or classroom chemistry exploration. These experiments use everyday items to unleash the powers of chemistry.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Edible Science:  Experiments You Can Eat by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

Everyone has a laboratory right in their own home — the kitchen! Use this book to investigate how cooking and science go hand-in-hand.



Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, and Grow by Kathy Ceceri — Curious kids will devour the experiments in this book as they work their way through the kitchen lab. Projects include 3-D printing with food, cooking off the grid, chemical cuisine, and more.


Chemistry Nitty Gritty

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Explore Atoms and Molecules! With 25 Great Projects by Janet Slingerland; illustrated by Matt Aucoin

Build a 3-D model of a molecule and more with this science activity book that focuses on the basic building blocks of matter.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Explore Solids and Liquids! With 25 Great Projects by Kathleen M. Reilly

This great companion title to the above book explores solids and liquids with 25 activities for your home or classroom using everyday household items.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Add Gareth Steven’s A Look At Chemistry Series to engage reluctant middle-grade readers. Titles include:  Atoms, Elements, Molecules, The Periodic Table, The pH Scale; and States of Matter.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Stinky Science: Why the Smelliest Smells Smell So Smelly by Edward Kay, illustrated by Mike Shiell

A fun and engaging romp into the science of stink, e.g. the chemicals smells are made of, how and why smells are linked to memories, plus gross stuff such as poop, body odor, and rotting flesh.

Pair the nonfiction titles on this list with this chemistry-themed fiction title

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Grave is a Fine and Private Place: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

Discover the world of 12-year-old science sleuth, Flavia de Luce in this twisty, mystery novel.



For extra fun

Check out Mrs. Humphries’ class signing Chemistry Christmas on Teacher Tube.

STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at


Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes, an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book for Eavesdropping on Elephants, and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can be the voice of change. Visit her at