If I give you glue, water and Borax, can you come up with a recipe for perfect polymer slime based solely on what you know about the science?
Last week, I did hands-on science with 150 third graders at Success Beyond the Classroom’s Creativity Festival at the University of Minnesota. As they came into the room, I asked them to draw a picture on chalkboard of anything related to science. They drew test tubes, trees, volcanoes, and even scientists!
Then we dug into the science. After doing my favorite large group hands-on experiment with purple cabbage juice to warm them up, I announced that we’d be making polymer slime, but that they would have to invent the recipe for the perfect goo.
To begin with, I talked about the science. We learned that one ingredient in the slime is glue (polyvinyl acetate), which is a polymer, or long chain of molecules. Then, we talked about the fact that adding water to the glue makes it less viscous, or thick. As usual, I had them repeat the vocabulary after me. Finally, I explained that the sodium tetraborate in Borax laundry detergent is a cross-linking substance that makes glue molecules stick together, and that we’d mixed up some Borax and water for them to use as a crosslinker for the slime.
Their challenge was to come up with one “recipe” to make a gooey, soft slime and a second recipe for a harder, rubber-like slime that could be rolled into bouncy balls. They each had a note card and pencil to keep track of their work, plastic teaspoons as measuring tools and paper cups for mixing slime. First, they’d stir up different proportions of glue and water, and then they’d add the Borax solution as a cross linker and mix it all together with a popsicle stick. To make it a little more colorful, they could add a drop of food coloring or some cabbage juice.
Needless to say, there were failures and successes and the kids had a blast. We talked about the fact that experiments often don’t work on the first try, and each kid explained to the group how they’d made their perfect slime as they demonstrated how it bounced and stretched.