Vitamin B in Water -- Comparison of White and Ultraviolet Light
Honey, laundry detergent, vitamin E, olive oil, clorophyll, some candies are other great examples of materials you can find that exhibit fluorescent properties!
Fluorescent Box Material List:
Black Foam Core Board
Black Duck Tape
Ultraviolet (Blacklight) Lamp
Utility Knife (Box Cutter)
Sunglasses (or Laser Safety Glasses) -- should not cause any harm without but better safe then sorry
Other fun materials!
First use four pieces of black foam core board and duck tape them together leaving a whole in the front and back. Tape the ultraviolet lamp to the side of the box towards the top with the power chord facing the back of the box. Then cut a hole in the side to let the power chord through. Next, cut two pieces of equal size to fit the front and back, duck taping the back piece to the current structure. Then hold the front up to the box and cut eye holes into the box. Finally, tape one vertical side to the box so that you create a door which swings open. Grab your safety goggles, materials, make your drawings, and have some fun!
Fluorescence is a specific type of the more general phenomenon of luminescence where light is emmitted by a material due to some excitation. See a list of various types of luminescence on this Wikipedia page. Of particular excitement to children (and adults too!) is bioluminescence -- a result of a chemical reaction occurring in a biological organism and fluorescence which is displayed in the experiments using this box. One can use videos of fireflies to show an ability to warn off predators, to find mates, or to give an example of synchronous behavior -- check out the awesome (but slightly more advanced book, Sync by Steven Strogatz). Anglerfish attract prey with their lantern. Jellyfish, bacteria, and fungi also can be strikingly beautiful to watch.
Using the general idea of luminscence to explain that transfer of energy can teach people that light is a form of energy and that energy can be transfered from one form to another. Here, you can explain that energy can be converted from a chemical reaction to light (in the case of bioluminescence -- and more generally, chemiluminescence) and from light of one energy to light of a lower energy. This can allow you to introduce light as a spectrum. For older students, you can teach band diagrams and show how light excites electrons in materials and that by electrons falling to a lower energy state, they release light. This provides a great tool for explaining some aspects of electronic structure and quantum mechanics without needing to overwhelm students with terminology they associate with difficult concepts.
Of course, this is beautiful, fascinating, and fun to play with. But the students may be wondering -- how can we, humans, use this phenomenon? Fluorescent microscopy is commonly used to image cells! This is done by using fluorescent tags attached to anti-bodies which then bind to targeted features or by staining in a less specific manner. These fluorescent tags allow us to image difficult-to-see materials. This can provide beautiful photographs of neurons. By using multiple fluorescent tags (emitting a different colored light) for different targets, one can see cells of various types and even subcellular components like mitochondria.
The basics of optics can be introduced too as one can then explain the difference between one photon vs two photon microscopy after introducing band diagrams and fluorescent microscopy. This can allow students to see how systems can be engineered on various levels to provide better results. Fluorescent microscopy is an incredible feat of engineering which has opened new doors in scientific research of biology and neuroscience. It took from bioluminescence (see Green Fluorescent Protein), chemistry, optics, and more. Each component of this pipeline has been heavily researched and improved to provide the fantastic capabilities found now. Let's try to excite some students to help us continue opening new doors in the scientific world!