Magic Snow – Sensory, tactile expanding polymer.
A test tube filled with Magic Snow powder! Slowly add water, drop by drop to a spoonful of the special snow powder and watch it fluff up into a mass of white snow-like flakes. Each crystal expands up to 100 times its original volume. A true wonder.
The reaction is instantaneous and if you regularly spray it with water your snow can be kept for months. It is soft and dry to touch and can be placed in the freezer for a cold realistic feel. It can even be left to dry out and then be reused over again and again.
By adding a few drops of food colour to the water you can make coloured snow!
Create a mound of snow, enough to fill the individual compartments of an ice tray. Put the tray in the freezer over-night – this will give you snow building blocks! Can you build a snow fort or an igloo?
Tip: run some warm water on the back of the ice tray to loosen the blocks if they don’t come out immediately.
- Test-tube of instant snow powder
- 0.5 ml Pipette
- Clean and safe
Teaching notes available
Safety Note: Magic Snow is very slippery when wet so make sure any spillages on the floor are cleaned up immediately to prevent slipping accidents.
Do not dispose of down the sink; it may clog up the drain.
How does Magic Snow work?
Magic Snow is an erupting polymer! Magic Snow is actually derived from the superabsorbent polymer, sodium
polyacrylate, found in baby nappies. The only difference (and it’s a big one) is that the Magic Snow polymer not only absorbs water but the long chains of molecules swell to an enormous size. The polymer soaks up water using the process of osmosis (water molecules pass through a barrier from one side to the other). When water comes in contact with the polymer, it moves from outside the polymer to the inside and causes it to swell. The polymer chains have an elastic quality to them, however they can only stretch so far and hold just so much water.
The Magic Snow reaction is a great example of a physical reaction – a reaction where the substance itself does not change. When an ice cube melts, a physical reaction takes place where the solid ice turns into a liquid, but the substance (water) never changes – it’s still water! However, in a chemical reaction, a new substance is formed and energy is either given off or absorbed.
If you think of the Magic Snow powder as millions of tiny sponges, it’s easy to see that neither the Magic Snow powder or the water was changed. If you allow the water to evaporate, the Insta-Snow powder dries out and returns to its previous state, ready to be used again.
Also, because of water’s unique shape, it is capable of associating with two polymer chains. For this reason, two polymer chains surround each layer of water molecules, with each row of water molecules forming a bridge between the two chains. Imagine the polymer–water
complex as something of a molecular sandwich, where the polymer chains are the “bread” and the water molecules are the “jam.” This ability of water to link between chains is called cross-linking, and it is what allows the polymer to absorb so much water.
What happens when you put some table salt on top of the snow?
Salt causes water to leak out of the sodium polyacrylate because it disrupts the attraction between water and the polymer chain. When salt is added, it breaks up into negative and positive ions, which are also attracted to the water molecules. In fact, each ion attracts several water molecules to it. Eventually, when enough salt is added, the water molecules become more attracted to the ions than the polymer chains, and water leaks out of the mixture.
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