Structure and Properties of Matter

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.

Garbage Juice: Waste Management and Leachate Generation

In this Activity, students use multi-colored breakfast cereal and liquid to model the concepts of leachate and leaching from municipal solid waste disposed of in a landfill. Students create a modern landfill model with the same material. This environmental chemistry Activity can be used to complement a celebration of Earth Day.

pHantastic Fluorescence

In this Activity, students extract a fluorescent substance from shavings of narra wood. The pH-dependent fluorescence can be turned on and off using household acid and base solutions. A yellow filter blocks the exciting light but not the fluorescent emission. This Activity gets students thinking about the interaction of light and molecules.

Mass Spectra

In this Activity, students solve puzzles that are analogous to finding the amino acid sequence of a peptide using mass spectrometry. Students identify words that have been broken into letters or groups of letters. In many textbooks instrumental analysis and various types of spectrometry are mentioned only in passing.

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.

Pondering Packing Peanut Polymers

In this Activity, students compare polystrene and cornstarch packing materials ("peanuts"). Both are made of polymers, but because of their composition, they behave very differently in various solvents. Students extrapolate how these differences in behavior relate to environmental effects, such as filling landfills with non-biodegradable materials.

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.

Bath Bubblers

In this Activity, students use citric acid and baking soda to make "bath bubblers" similar to those sold in bath and body stores. They investigate the fizzing reaction that occurs when the bubblers are added to both cold and hot water. Bringing this real world product into the classroom adds interest and can lead to creativity, while introducing both acid/base concepts and rates of reaction.

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.

Water Filtration

In this Activity, students make a water filtration column using a 2-liter plastic beverage bottle that contains layers of gravel, sand, and activated charcoal. They prepare a contaminated sample of water and examine the filtration ability of the column. This environmental chemistry Activity can be used to complement a celebration of Earth Day.