Soil Your Underwear Challenge

Activity Brief

Get ready to go on an adventure with soil science, make quality observations, and expose the hidden life of a soil.

This challenge presents seven activities intended to give you a basic understanding of soil ecology. Each activity is paired with a field guide that allows you to question what you see in your soil. The main emphasis within these activities is to demonstrate that good science is founded on quality observations.

This Challenge was available to members only, now you can do it too! Members do get to attend member-only special events like this! Do you want to be apart of these special events?

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Burying a perfectly clean pair of cotton undies is absolutely ridiculous!

And that is exactly the point— to add a level of silliness to science by burying underwear.

Professional scientists conduct look-and-see bioassays to see what’s going on in their study system. This gives them a better understanding of how to question and hypothesize before they design more formal experiments. Our activities are rooted in look-and-see bioassays and we hope they can spark your next big idea or science experiment.

This website serves as a colorful resource to discover life in your soil. If you have questions about our lessons, we offer how-to videos online as well as supplemental materials to discover more ways to bring soil science into focus. We hope you can
connect with us online to learn more and share your journey with soils.

Our activities are rooted in look-and-see bioassays and we hope they can spark your next big idea or science experiment.

Table of Contents

Activity 1 - Underwear Burial

What will your soil do to your underwear?

As you bury 2 pairs of underwear, you’ll uncover diverse life underground and discover how soil changes the deeper you dig. Underwear Burial is a jumping off point to other activities in this book.

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Activity 2 - Seed Assay

Can you expose the hidden plants in your soil?

Biologists of all kinds use assays to determine how to design their experiments. An assay is an investigative process that reveals which variables can be measured in a study system. In this activity, you’ll determine how many seeds are buried in different depths of your soil by germinating the seeds, and you’ll explore the variables that impact seed germination.

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Activity 3 - Sing With Us

The soil is alive!

This sing-along guides you through the 5 factors of soil formation: parent material, relief, climate, organisms, and time.

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Activity 4 - Berlese Funnel

Discover arthropods hiding in your soil.

Italian entomologist Antonio Berlese invented this insect-collecting device in 1905. It’s still used today to extract arthropods from soil samples. It uses a heat source (in this case a light bulb) to dry the sample, forcing the insects through a screen and into a jar of preserving fluid.* You can make your own Berlese funnel to explore and collect the arthropod life in different types of soil.

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Activity 5 - Soapy-Water Flush

Are there insects hiding in your lawn?

Scientists who study insects sometimes use a “soapy-water flush” to bring insects to the surface. The soap irritates the insects’ exoskeletons, forcing them to crawl up from their homes to the tips of grass blades. With this activity, you can play with bubbles in your yard while discovering the diversity of hidden life around you.

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Activity 6 - Paint with Soils

Use the diverse colors and textures of soil to make art.

Did you know that you can paint with soils? Many cultures have used soils as pigments for pottery, textiles and storytelling.

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Activity 7 - Unbury Your Underwear

What did the soil do to your underwear?

At this point, you have learned quite a bit about soil. The arthropods you exposed, the seeds you germinated, the song you sang, and the art you made all relate to the characters in your soil’s story.

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Did you enjoy some or all of these activities? Are you interested in taking it further with soil science?

The Soil Science Society of America provides endless resources for curious minds like yours to explore layer after layer of soil science.
Many of the ideas and some activities in this book are adapted from the SSSA’s educational and outreach initiatives. For more ideas about how to connect soil science to chemistry,biology, forensics, land use, and conservation, check out the K–12 Science Teachers Resource at

Design your own challenge

Knowing what you know about soil science, explain how you would modify and design your own SYUC experiment.

Download the worksheet to design your own!



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Be a part of the Saint Louis Science Center’s special programs with a membership.

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