Use homemade conductive and resistant play-doh to build electronic sculptures that light up, move, and make sounds. Anyone who has ever tasted play-doh knows that it’s a salty substance. The salt allows electricity to flow through the dough. With the addition of a homemade dough that substitutes sugar for salt, the dough becomes resistive instead, and complex circuits can be created to power all kinds of objects. We use battery packs, LED lights, hobby motors, and buzzers to explore electricity in a fun, hands-on way. We were inspired by this TED talk by AnnMarie Thomas to develop this activity. Check out the video of Squishy Circuits in action in the Tinkering Studio below!
What are the qualities that we value in this activity?
Science and art connections
This activity allows people to spend time modeling the play-doh to create artistic sculptures. It also invites participants to use the material as a purely functional “wire” to conduct the electricity. But when those two combine, people begin to operate in the sweet spot between art, science, and technology.
Materials that invite inquiry
It’s hard to think of a material more accessible and inviting than Play-Doh. The tactile pleasure of squishing, molding, and sculpting malleable dough unleashes untapped wells of creativity. The batteries, buzzers, LEDs, and motors are familiar as well, and offer possibilities for building understanding of how electrical connections work.
STEM content is a means, not an end
This activity allows opportunities for exploring series and parallel circuits, polarity, or the creation of complex switches. However these concepts get introduced gradually as the materials invite inquiry into scientific concepts. Resistance may be explored by passing current through a long tube or squeezing the wad of dough hooked up to a motor.