Polymer Discoveries

Activity Time: 5 minutes
Recommended Grades: K – 6
Objective: Investigate polymers at home with this quick and easy activity! Adult assistance is required for younger scientists.

  • 1 diaper
  • 1 clear cup
  • about 1 cup of water
  • scissors
  1. Cut the diaper in the center.
  2. Remove some of the white filling from inside the diaper.
  3. Place it in the cup.
  4. Add the water to the cup.
  5. Turn the cup with the diaper filling upside down.

We already know that diapers are super absorbent, but what’s in there and what’s going on? Diapers contain a special polymer called sodium polyacrylate. Breaking up the word polymer we get “poly” (which means many) and “mer” (which means part or molecule) So a polymer is a chain of many repeating molecules. Some other polymers we know and love include slime, plastic, tires, many articles of clothing, etc. This particular polymer found in diapers is very absorbent. The molecules in sodium polyacrylate can soak up to 800 times their own weight in water, like a super special sponge! So when you flip the cup upside down, nothing falls out because the sodium polyacrylate has expanded so much that it takes up way more room in the cup allowing the newly formed gel to stay nicely packed into the bottom of the cup.

*Special note for clean-up: Toss the squishy gel into the garbage when you are done as super absorbers should not be placed in any drains. Also be sure to wash your hands.

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