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Polymer Absorbance: A Swell Project *

Time Required Short (2-5 days)
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Disposable diapers contain a polymer, called sodium acrylate, which is useful for absorbing water. Do background research to learn about sodium acrylate, and how it reacts with water. Make sure that you understand the terms hydrophilic, polarity and hydrogen bonding. Cut out the middle, padded section of a disposable diaper. Cut this into equally-sized square pieces, approximately 10-12 cm on a side. Remove some of the stuffing material so that you can staple the open ends closed. Measure water into a quart jar to fill it half-way. Immerse a diaper pad square in the jar and leave it for at least twenty minutes. Take out the diaper pad square, and allow any dripping water to go back into the jar. Measure how much water is left in the jar, and subtract from the original amount to see how much water the diaper pad square absorbed. Here are some questions you can think about answering with this project. How much water can the diaper pad absorb? Ordinary table salt makes a strongly ionic solution, dissociating into positively-charged sodium ions and negatively-charged chloride ions. What effect will the presence of dissolved salt have on the ability of sodium acrylate to absorb water? How much salt water solution can the diaper pad absorb? (Note: a solution of 10 g salt in 110 ml of water will have about the same concentration of dissolved salt as baby urine.) Sugar makes a non-ionic solution. How much sugar water solution can the diaper pad absorb? How does temperature affect absorption? (Goodstein, 2004, 49-55)

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Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 30). Polymer Absorbance: A Swell Project. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_p035.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-06-30


Goodstein, M., 2004. Plastics and Polymers Science Fair Projects: Using Hair Gel, Soda Bottles, and Slimy Stuff. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers.

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