Summer Camp 2016: STEAM Fun with Polymers

This week at camp our STEAM students had fun with polymers!  We learned that a polymer is a long chain made up of many molecules. We find polymers in plastic bottles, styrofoam, chewing gum and so much more!

Did you know that polymer chemistry is a fairly new brand of chemistry? It has grown into one of the largest chemical industries in the world today!

The campers set out to explore a couple different types of polymers.

Here is our first experiment:

Supplies

o    Zip-up Bags (various sizes)

o    Water

o    Sharpened Pencils

We filled a zip-up bag about half-way with water and sealed it up. We tied the bags in the outdoor classroom so that the campers were able to work on poking the pencils through the bags.

Make sure that the pencil doesn’t keep traveling through the bag or you’ll have water leaks.

We kept adding pencils until we had enough. Before removing the pencils, we took a moment to talk about what you see. When the pencil goes into the bag, the bag seems to magically seal itself around the pencil.

The Science Behind the Experiment

Plastic bags are made out of polymers, chains of molecules that are flexible and give the bag its "stretchiness". When the sharp pencil pokes through the bag, the stretchy plastic hugs around the pencil, creating a watertight seal around the pencil…and the bag doesn’t leak.

The next day, our young scientists created  their own polymer by mixing up a batch of bouncy balls (a mixture of water, white glue, and borax).  

Supplies

o    1 Tbsp. Borax (found in the laundry section)

o    1/2 Cup Warm Water

o    1 Tbsp. Corn Starch

o    White School Glue

o    2 Small Mixing Cups

o    A Spoon (for stirring)

o    Food Coloring (optional)

Mix the water and borax in one cup and the glue, cornstarch and food coloring in the other. Then the glue mixture gets poured into the water mixture. In a few seconds, the mixture starts to harden. We took out our "blobs" and rolled them around in our hands. It was very messy at first but before long, we had bouncy balls!

The Science Behind the Experiment

This activity demonstrates a chemical reaction primarily between the Borax and the glue creating a chain of molecules that stay together when we pick them up. The cornstarch helps to further bind the molecules together to hold the shape of the ball.