Playing with Polymers

Educational objective

Polymers are materials that have revolutionized many industries. Their unique and tunable properties make them an ideal choice for a variety of applications. In this presentation we explore where polymers are used, why polymers are the way they are, and how they can be tuned for specific needs.


This material was presented to a group of high school students (grades 9-11) with limited knowledge of polymers.


This presentation has no prerequisite knowledge requirements.

Materials required

  • Polymer-in-a-can(TM)
  • Polymer rods
  • Baby Dippers
  • Rubber bands
  • Styrofoam Chips
  • Acetone
  • Plastic bottle made from different plastics
  • Handout explaining recycling
  • Plastic cup
  • Glass beaker

(Runtime: 60 minutes)

  1. Where are polymers used?
  2. How polymers are formed?
  3. Polymer-in-a-can(TM) demonstration.
  4. Polymer simulation.
    1. Students will form three “polymer chains” by holding hands and moving around the room.
    2. The students will then “cross-link” by attaching rubber bands between hands on each chain.
    3. The students will try to move around again.

  5. Discuss crosslinking in polymers.
  6. Pass around polymer rods made from different polymers and ask the students to explain the observed differences.

Plastic Recycling

  1. Have students match the code on the mixed plastic bottle to the corresponding plastic listed on the handout.

How do we keep babies dry?

  1. Give each student a dipper.
  2. Have them cut open the dipper and separate the hydrogel from the cotton.
  3. Have them add water to the gel to determine how much it can hold.

Note: With the proper equipment this can be done quantitatively. We kept it more informal

Recycling Styrofoam

  1. Add acetone to the beaker.
  2. Have the students add the Styrofoam chips and watch what happens.
  3. Have students continue to add the chips until the solution saturates.

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