Form & Function

Popcorn: What's in the Bag?

In this Activity, students investigate microwave popcorn, the process of microwave-promoted popping, and the materials involved: water, vegetable oils, starch, and special packaging materials. This Activity supports discussion of thermal and electromagnetic energy, phase changes, intermolecular forces, patterns of solubility, and the structure of fats, oils and starches.

Ions or Molecules? Polymer Gels Can Tell

In this Activity, students first prepare a gel using the superabsorbent polymer sodium polyacrylate (found in certain diapers) and water. The gel is split into piles and samples of different compounds are sprinkled on the piles. Students determine that ionic compounds break down the gel, while covalent compounds have no effect on the gel.

Flipping Pennies and Burning Candles: Adventures in Kinetics

In this Activity, students collect data to determine whether two processes, flipping pennies and burning small birthday candles, follow zeroth- or first-order rate laws. Students first collect data on the number of pennies remaining "heads up" after several successive tosses and then measure the mass of a burning candle over time.

Chemistry of Cement

In this Activity, students use a commercial cement mix to produce concrete. They investigate how changing key variables such as concentrations, curing temperatures, and the addition of various substances affects properties such as setting time, hardness, and plasticity.

Apple Fool! An Introduction to Artificial Flavors

In this Activity, students investigate flavorings by making artificial "cooked apples" from a mixture of crackers, sugar, cream of tartar, and water, as is done for the filling in recipes for Mock Apple Pie. This Activity focuses on consumer chemistry, and can be used to introduce natural and artificial flavors or lab experiments that make esters.

Whatever Floats (or Sinks) Your Can

In this Activity, students test whether cans of carbonated beverages sink or float in water and then determine whether caffeine content, soda color, or sugar content in the carbonated sodas is responsible for the buoyancy of the sealed cans. This Activity can be used as an introduction to density in a middle school physical science course, or a high school chemistry or physics course.

Out of the Blue

In this Activity, students first prepare a standard formulation for a variation on the classic blue bottle reaction using consumer chemicals. They then make appropriate changes to the formulation and observe the results to determine the roles played by each reactant. This Activity could be used with units on chemical kinetics and oxidation-reduction reactions.

A Kool Reaction from the Fine Print

In this Activity, students gain an understanding of the importance of reading reagent labels both in chemistry class and on consumer products. Students explore the chemistry behind the directive on a package of Kool-Aid "Do not store in a metal container". The Activity illustrates properties of acids and metals.

Diffusion of Water through a Differentially Permeable Membrane

In this Activity, students investigate the process of osmosis through a differentially-permeable membrane formed by the precipitation of copper(II) hexacyanoferrate(II). This Activity allows students to watch and investigate osmosis, which reinforces the concept of transport in living cells.

Cooking Up Colors from Plants, Fabric, and Metal

In this Activity, students dye fabric squares with two plant dyes: aqueous extracts of tea leaves and of marigold flowers. They investigate how the addition of iron to a dye bath affects the resulting color and fastness of the dyed fabrics and observe that the type of fabric affects the results. This Activity can accompany a discussion of the impressive array of chemicals produced by plants.