Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shrinky Dink polymers

I pulled out some sheets of shrink film lying around in my art cabinet so we could play with polymers. Polymers are long chains of molecules that can be manipulated in different ways. Shrinky Dink and similar thermoplastics are stretched using heat. When you re-heat them, they revert to their original shape. Here's a handout for kids from the American Chemical Society on making your own shrink film from recycled clamshell containers from the bakery or salad bar. Look for the #6 recycling symbol (other plastics will react in different ways in heat -- including by giving off toxic fumes). Number 6 is for polystyrene, the same stuff that Styrofoam is made out of. You obviously want the hard, thin, clear plastic, not the expanded puffy stuff.

It'd been a while since I played around with these, and I forgot that you have to let them curl up and then uncurl before removing them from the oven.

We popped them back in the oven and they straightened themselves out, with a little help where they had stuck together. Be careful fiddling around with them: when they're soft enough to unbend, they're still pretty hot.

Here's what the kids made:

Shrinkage: 60% (after baking twice)

Shrinkage: 50%

(By the way, it was a great day to be baking things, a brisk 50-something. In May. Helped me hold out against the urge to turn the heat on.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Extra Oxygen

Lesson: The enzyme catalase splits hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.
What Happened: Adding yeast to hydrogen peroxide caused it to foam up with oxygen bubbles, which re-ignited an extinguished splint.

Science educator Robert Krampf has a collection of home science videos -- many but not all about chemistry -- on his website. He recently re-instated his email list, and I decided to try today's Experiment of the Day with some friends who are visiting. You can see Krampf explaining the experiment as he performs it on his website, which I have added to the sidebar. Here is an excerpt:

You will need:

  1. a wooden, cooking skewer
  2. a lighter
  3. 3% hydrogen peroxide (from the grocery or pharmacy)
  4. a cup or glass
  5. yeast

Pour some hydrogen peroxide into the glass. Sprinkle some of the yeast into the peroxide and give it a stir. Very quickly you will see bubbles rising, producing foam on top of the liquid.

Light the end of the wooden skewer, and let it burn for a moment. Then blow out the flame. If you blow gently on the burning end, you should see a red glow. It is still burning, but not flaming. Carefully bring the glowing end of the skewer up to the larger bubbles in the foam. The skewer should flare up, bursting into flame.
We did not get the dramatic results that he gets in the video, but after a few tries we figured out that you need to let the skewer burn for few minutes to get hot enough to reignite.

Here is an explanation of how our bodies use catalase in the same way:
Hydrogen peroxide is a toxic by-product of respiration.  Organisms that
obtain energy by oxidation of foods must develop mechanisms to limit the
damage it causes. This is primarily accomplished by a class of enzymes
called catalases, which catalyze the reaction

2 HOOH --> 2 H2O + O2

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Surfaces and Density

This week we did a number of experiments with oil, water, food coloring and various props to explore the property of surfaces. The physical properties like surface tension and solubility are related to the strength of Intermolecular Forces -- the attractive forces between molecules.

Surface Tension Experiments

These came from the website of the Chicago Section of the American Chemical Society

3 bowls or containers with water
liquid soap
a piece of string
a paper clip
a fork
a needle

Bowl 1:

1. Sprinkle pepper on the surface of cold clean water in a shallow dish. Allow the particles to spread out and cover the surface.

2. Put your finger in the bowl.

3. Put a drop of liquid soap on your finger. Put your finger in the bowl again.

What should happen: Pepper should rush away from your finger in a star pattern.

What did happen: Pepper rushed away from finger in a circle -- still impressive.

Bowl 2:

1. Float a small loop of string in the middle of the surface of water.

2. Put a drop of liquid soap inside the loop.

What should happen: The surface tension inside the loop of string should weaken by the soap but the surface tension outside the string should have pulled the string outward.

What did happen: The string sank before we could try step 2.

Bowl 3:

1. Lower a paper clip and a needle flat onto the water surface using the fork. They should float.

2. If they don't, place a paper towel on the surface of the water, place the objects on the paper, and then remove the paper.

3. Now put a drop of liquid soap on the water surface.

What should happen: As soon as the tension is broken by the soap, these items should sink to the bottom.

This one worked as planned!

Density Column
Joy of Chemistry, page 131

2 clear glasses or plastic cups
Food coloring
Cooking oil
Liquid soap
Plastic spoon

1. Pour about an inch of water into the cup.

2. Add food coloring to the water.

3. Pour about an inch of glycerin into the second cup.

4. Gently add colored water.

5. Add oil until you get three layers.

6. Stir. Allow to settle.The water will mix with the glycerin, but the oil will separate back out.

7. Add a layer of liquid soap.

8. Stir gently. The oil will mix with the glycerin.

What's Happening: Different liquids have different densities, and according to the density, the liquids will settle in a certain order when mixed. Oil is less dense than water and therefore will settle on top of water.

(NOTE: Glycerin--C3H5(OH)3, which can be bought in drugstores -- can be added to dish soap to make long-lasting bubble solution. Bubbles eventually burst once the layer of water evaporates, but glycerin forms weak hydrogen bonds with water, delaying evaporation. )

Lava Lamp

(Sorry that it's sideways. When I figure out how to fix it, I will repost it!)

Tall narrow jar
Food coloring
Vegetable oil


1. Fill the cylinder with water.

2. Add the food coloring. Do not let the water become too dark.

3. Slowly pour oil into the cylinder. It should make a thick layer on top of the water.

4. Slowly sprinkle the salt into the cylinder on top of the oil. The salt coats the oil and causes it to fall to the bottom of the graduated cylinder in globs. The oil will gradually return to the top of the graduated cylinder.

What happened:

Vegetable oil is less dense than water. When the salt is added, it sticks to the oil and drags it down. Once at the bottom, the water dissolves the salt and the oil floats back up.

The reason the oil doesn't dissolve into the water happens because of its difference in polarity. Water and salt are both polar. Oil is non-polar. Only polar substances will dissolve polar substances. A non-polar substance will not dissolve in a polar substance. This is the rule of "like dissolves like."