Kids can act out in all sorts of strange ways, but when they start doing so in the name of science, it’s probably best to let them run their course. After checking out the clip below, you’ll see why it’s not so crazy that your young ones are itching to microwave an empty bag of Sun Chips. The seemingly unwise stunt is actually a pretty awesome introduction to a way polymers can react to heat. This is a children’s science experiment to put in your back pocket for a rainy day.
You’re not alone if you’re unsure what “polymers” are. Polymer-Search, the Internet search engine for rubber and plastic, notes that “everything that we see and use every day is made up of natural or synthetic (man-made) polymers.” A description like that can often serve to make things more confusing, but this simple experiment helps to straighten things out. Well, technically it does just the opposite, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
As the Southeast Missourian observes in their run-down of the experiment, “Polymers are long chains of molecules.” A 2006 response from a Google Answers Researcher correctly noted that “the natural form of a polymer is to be randomly curled up onto itself.”
In creating the Sun Chips bags, the manufacturer has flattened countless polymer chains into the state that you buy them in. By putting them in the microwave, we’re ostensibly reversing this process. The Southeast Missourian gets a bit more specific by noting that “the polymers are heated and stretched to create the Sun Chips bag. When heated in the microwave, the polymers go from their stretched state to their natural state, creating the shrunken Sun Chips bag.”
While the Southeast Missourian’s description helps us to better understand heat’s role in the process, they sacrifice accuracy for understanding by leaving a bit of information out. The Google Answers Researcher described this bit succinctly, and it has to do with how the bag keeps its shape as it shrinks:
“As the chains shrink, they are still bound to each other, and they are still stacked together in the multiple thin layers that make up the actual packaging sheet, so the overall shape of the bag tends to remain the same, only the size changes. Since any of the labeling that is printed on the surface of the bag is simply a very thin layer of ink, it will shrink with the surface too.”
The two kids in the clip below only microwave the bag for five seconds, but that’s all the time that’s needed to see the magic (science) at work. It’ll look like a small lightning storm is brewing in your appliance, but it’s worth it for the end product. The look on your kids’ faces will be as if they’ve just seen the work of a deity, and the knowledge imparted will be worth the time.
Let us know if you’ve done this experiment with your kids in the comments. When the video below is finished playing, be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook!