Have you ever wondered what things like wood, paper and cotton are made of? The main component in these items is cellulose, which is one of many polymers found in nature.
Polymers are large molecules that make up many of the materials in living organisms. Other natural polymers include wool, silk and natural rubber, while synthetic polymers include nylon, silicone and synthetic rubber.
In this activity, students will learn the basics of polymers by making fake snow. This requires the purchase of a special compound: sodium polyacrylate, which was invented specifically for diapers. The powder is a polymer that absorbs water and expands to make a material resembling snow. As a bonus, students will also learn important scientific concepts, like cause-and-effect measurements, physical reactions and absorption and osmosis.
Whether you’ve had your fair share of snow days or live an area where snow has never made its debut, your students will enjoy making fake snow while learning about the magic of polymers.
- Sodium polyacrylate (or search for “snow polymer”)
- Plastic pipettes or droppers
- Several dishes
- Salt (optional)
- Watercolors (optional)
- Other accessories (optional)
1. Pour a small amount of sodium polyacrylate into a dish.
2. Using a plastic pipette, slowly drop water onto the material.
3. Watch the polymer seem to explode as it absorbs water.
4. Experiment by adding additional polymer or water to reach the desired amount and consistency of snow.
5. Let students dig their hands in and play with the fake snow!
The Science Behind the Experiment:
The sodium polyacrylate is a super-absorbent polymer that acts like a giant sponge when it gets wet. Fun fact: the polymer can hold over 300 times its own weight in water! Once the polymer comes in contact with water, it draws it in, causing the polymer to expand tremendously. As a result of this reaction, the polymer turns the water into a white fluffy substance that looks like real snow!
This activity is adapted from Banish Boredom: Activities to Do with Kids That You’ll Actually Enjoy, which includes additional variations of the experiment.