Happy St. Patrick's Day!
St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner - a time for Irish music, dancing, festivals and a lot of green. How about celebrating in your own home with some decorations made using science?!
We can use household materials to make crystal shamrocks. Shamrocks are the leaf of a clover plant, and a symbol for the country of Ireland, where the real St. Patrick lived and is celebrated across the world today.
NOTE: Though doing the lab will only take about 20 minutes, once you're done you'll have to wait overnight to see the full results.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- green pipe cleaner
- a large wide-mouthed glass jar
- borax (powder found in the laundry aisle), about 1 cup
- pencil (or pen, stick, straw)
NOTE: It is not safe to breath in or eat borax, so be careful. Don't worry, we've included some tips and steps that help you to stay safe!
LET'S GET STARTED
- Shape your pipe cleaner into a shamrock! Make sure it will fit into the jar's opening and that there's about a 1/2 inch of space on the sides. (You'll need space because the shamrock is going to get bigger.)
- Tie the piece of string around the stem of your shamrock.
- Hang your shamrock in the empty jar, suspending it right in the middle. Tie the other end of the string to the middle of your pencil. Remove the shamrock from the jar.
- Then add water to the jar cup by cup. Count how many cups it takes to fill the jar.
- Now pour the water from the jar into a pot and have your parent bring it to a boil on the stove.
- Remove the pot from the heat and turn on the fan above your stovetop if you have one. If not, open a window or two for ventilation.
- Wait until the water is calm and no longer bubbling. (You don't want to add borax while the water is still bubbling.)
- Now add 3 tablespoons of borax for each cup of water. (For example, our jar held 6 cups of water, so we used 18 tablespoons of (3x6=18). NOTE: If you want to use cups to measure, there are 16 tablespoons in one cup.
- Mix the borax with a wooden spoon until it's completely dissolved. Be careful not to breathe in the steam.
- Pour the water-borax solution back into the jar.
- Gently lower your shamrock into the jar so it's suspended right in the middle. Make sure it does not touch the sides or bottom of the jar, or it might get stuck there!
- Put the jar in an out-of-the-way place with good ventilation.
- Come back the next day to see what happened!
What's going on?
You just made a shamrock crystal! A crystal is a special type of solid mineral in which the molecules fit together in an organized, repeating pattern. The process of crystallization is when molecules transition from chaos to uniformity!
There are many different types of crystals found in nature, but crystals are generally formed in three ways.
- Some crystals, such as diamonds and emeralds, are formed when liquid rock (magma) slowly cools and hardens.
- Other crystals, such as snowflakes and frost, are formed when water evaporates (dries up) and the crystal is left behind.
- Still other crystals form when a supersaturated liquid that has a dissolved mineral in it, cools. The crystals in this experiment were formed in this way.
Growing crystals from hot water:
By heating the water, you were able to dissolve more borax than you could at room temperature because hot water molecules are farther apart so they have more space to hold borax. This is called a supersaturated solution.
As the solution cooled, the water molecules moved closer together, so borax came out of solution (out of being mixed), and borax crystals started to form on the tiny bristles of the pipe cleaner.
The size and shape of the crystals depends on how fast the solution cools. When solutions cool fast, smaller crystals are formed because they have less time to organize. Slow-cooling solutions tend to form larger crystals.
Design Your Own Experiments
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