Friday, January 22, 2010

Random Fun: Science!

Can you guess what these are?

For those of you who guessed "those are polymer balls that expand when exposed to water, currently drying in a sieve!", you would be correct.

In my last foray into a craft store, I ventured into the science fair section--the part with children's microscopes, ant farms, test tubes, and astronaut ice cream.  It's the section that I loved when I was little (yes, I was a nerd)--and the section that I still love now (yes, I am still a nerd).

While all of the bigger sets are quite expensive, I was delighted to find that there are a lot of smaller sets for under $10.  And so, I bought a packet of "slippery spheres"...  or, in other words, polymer balls that go from 2mm to the size of large marbles when exposed to water.  I put them in a bowl of water on the counter.  The constant excitement at watching them expand--and the subsequent delight to find that they bounce--was well worth the $4.00!

And, because I find delight and inspiration in the slightest things, here are pictures of the venture.  To start with, here are the spheres right at the beginning...

And here is what they look like after a few days (the smallest next to the largest):

Something else fun about these spheres is that they actually shrink when no longer exposed to water.  Once dry, you can start the entire process over again.  And so, here you can see them being dried out:

Of course, I have yet to figure out how to incorporate them into any of my jewelry...  After all, it is hard to work with a substance that has to be perpetually wet.  Yet, I find them beautiful to just stare at...  and wonderfully fun to play with (did I mention that they bounce)?

The world that we live in never ceases to amaze me...  I am living proof that science can be fun.

Fine print:

For all you fellow nerds, here is the Wikipedia article on polymer:

And, for all of you fellow nerds who feel the desire to replicate my experiment, here is the link to the actual set that I bought:

Basically, the idea is that polymer in the spheres creates chemical bonds with the polarized water, causing the water to be absorbed and the sphere itself to expand.  It's a simple enough explanation, but I find it fascinating how it actually does it.

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