What will we learn about today?
We are going to learn all about polymers, and the many fun and interesting things its used to make. I’m pretty sure you can look around your room and find numerous things in which polymers were used to make it.
Here is what you’ll need for your own snow experiment.
Making Fake Snow
One of the easiest ways to make realistic fake snow is to mix sodium polyacrylate and water. The resulting snow is white, wet, fluffy, and cool to the touch. It is also non-toxic and reusable. Sodium polyacrylate is a polymer used in disposable diapers, growing toys, sanitary napkins, and gel water sources.
Fake Snow Materials
You only need two simple materials for this project:
- Sodium polyacrylate
What You Do
We had a blast doing this experiment, and we are sure you’ll will too. If you choose to purchase the can purchase the 2 gallon bucket of fake snow, you can, but it’s not necessary. You can purchase smaller amounts here.
The process to make fake snow is simple:
Add water to the sodium polyacrylate. We used a fairly small amount of sodium polyacrylate 1 – 2 tbsp. You can add more or less water until you have the desired amount of wetness. The gel will not dissolve. It’s just a matter of how slushy you want your snow. You’ll also notice that sodium polyacrylate snow feels cool to the touch because it is mainly water. If you want to add more realism to the fake snow, you can refrigerate or freeze it. The gel will not melt. If it dries out, you can rehydrate it by adding water.
- Fake snow is non-toxic, as you would expect from a material used in disposable diapers. However, don’t purposely eat it. Remember, “non-toxic” is not the same as “edible.”
- When you are done playing with fake snow, it’s safe to throw it away. Alternatively, you can dry it out to save and re-use.
- If you want yellow snow (or some other color), you can mix food coloring into the fake snow.
- If you want drier snow, you can reduce the amount of water the polymer can absorb by adding a small amount of salt.
- Skin contact with the artificial snow could potentially cause irritation or a rash. This is because leftover acrylic acid could remain as a by-product of sodium polyacrylate production. The level of acrylic acid is regulated for disposable diapers to be less than 300 PPM. If you choose another source for the chemical that isn’t intended for human skin contact, the resulting snow could be itchy.
Note to Parents
In you were wondering, “Is this safe for my child?” We did the research for you! 👍🏾Sodium polyacrylate is also known by the common name “water lock.” It’s a polymer created from a sodium salt of acrylic acid with the chemical formula [−CH2−CH(CO2Na)−]n.
The material is super absorbent, with the capacity to absorb 100 to 1000 times its weight in water. While the sodium form of this polymer is most common, similar materials exist that are made from potassium, lithium, or ammonium rather than sodium.
A brief history
The U.S. Department of Agriculture developed the material in the early 1960s. Researchers sought a material to improve water retention in soils. Originally, the scientists developed a hydrolyzed of product made from a starch-acrylonitrile co-polymer. In other words, a process that would break down the starches in order to further process them. The resulting polymer, known as “Super Slurper,” absorbed over 400 times its weight in water, but did not release the water back again.
Many chemical companies worldwide joined the race to develop a super absorbent polymer, including Dow Chemical, General Mills, Sanyo Chemical, Kao, Nihon Sarch, Dupont, and Sumitomo Chemical. The first commercial products resulting from the research were released in the early 1970s. However, the first applications were for adult incontinence products and feminine sanitary napkins, not soil amendments. The first use of a super absorbent polymer in a baby diaper was in 1982. Sodium polyacrylate is also used to make the fun toy Fortune Teller Miracle Fish.
Sources & resources:
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. “How to Make Fake Snow That Feels Cold.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2020, thoughtco.com/how-to-make-fake-snow-605987.