STEM Activity: Polypalooza

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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Polypalooza

In this hands-on STEM activity, children explore the exciting properties of polymers and experiment with primary colors to create different pigments!

Materials Needed

  • Plastic container
  • Food coloring (primary colors)
  • One paper plate for each participant 
  • Three paper plates to mix the polymer snow
  • Four plastic cups
  • Plastic spoon
  • Polymer snow
  • Salt

At-Home or In-Classroom Instructions

  1. Select an object with color to match with (e.g. a flower, a magazine picture of fruit, etc.)
  2. Fill four cups with approximately eight ounces of water each. Place one drop of red food coloring into one cup of water, one drop of blue into another cup of water and one drop of yellow into a third cup water and mix.
  3. Place three spoonfuls of polymer snow into a plastic container.
  4. Next, add two spoonfuls of water (without color) into the plastic container and observe the amazing growth!
  5. Add approximately eight ounces of water (without color) to the container and observe the polymer expand even more. Miniature polymer snowbanks begin to form!
  6. Place one teaspoon of the expanded polymer snow onto each participant’s paper plate. Instruct them to color the snow the same color as their object by spooning and mixing colored water into the polymer snow samples. If all samples are used and the color match is not achieved, discard the colored samples and replace them with fresh polymer snow. 
  7. Next, place the following amounts of polymer snow onto three separate plates: one-half teaspoon, one teaspoon, two teaspoons.
  8. Pour one spoonful of salt onto each of the three polymer snow samples and observe what happens over the next few minutes!

What Are We Learning?

Artificial snow is a polymer. Polymers are made up of long chains of molecules that can be natural, like DNA, or synthetic, like plastic. In this experiment, the polymer bits that make up the artificial snow absorb water and expand to many times their original size. The polymer snow particles absorb the primary-colored water, revealing new colors after mixing. Red, blue and yellow are primary colors that cannot be formed by combining any other colors. They are used to make most other colors. Secondary colors can be mixed together to create tertiary colors. 

When salt is added to the polymer snow and water mixture, it begins to pull the water out of the mixture. This happens because the sodium ions in the salt create a screen, or a barrier, between the water molecules and the polymer particles. 

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