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Foaming Fake Snow

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41 reviews

Summary

Active Time
20-30 minutes
Total Project Time
20-30 minutes
Key Concepts
Chemical reactions, surfactants
Credits
Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies

Introduction

If you live where there is snow, it can be fun to play in it for a while—but it can get quite chilly! Or maybe you live in a place that does not get snow. In this fun activity, you can experience something similar to snow anytime, in the comfort of your own home. You will mix together common kitchen supplies to make a sculpted object, and then, whenever you decide, you can let your snow creation "melt" away into a white surface. Curious about how kitchen chemistry can look like snow? Try this activity and find out!
This activity is not recommended for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Materials

  • Two large plastic or glass containers
  • One-cup measuring cup
  • Baking soda
  • Measuring spoons: a teaspoon and a tablespoon
  • Sticky note
  • Pen or pencil
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Vinegar
  • Small waterproof items to decorate your creation (optional)

Prep Work

  1. Choose a workspace that can get dirty and wet.
  2. Write "Soap" on a sticky note and stick it to one of the containers.

Instructions

  1. Scoop one cup of baking soda into the container without the sticky note. Add three tablespoons of water and mix the ingredients together to make a dough. It should feel like modeling clay. You can add water in small amounts at a time if the dough is too crumbly, until you reach the right consistency.

  2. Have fun molding a snowman, a polar bear, or any other critter. Feel free to decorate your creation with waterproof objects. Keep your creation in that container.
    Think about:
    Does the dough stick well together? How does it feel?
  3. Now, take the container with the sticky note reading "Soap," and make a second batch of dough using a slightly altered recipe. Add one cup of baking soda and one teaspoon of dishwashing soap to the container, followed by three tablespoons of water.
    Think about:
    Do you notice the difference in the recipes?

  4. Mix the ingredients together to make a dough. You can add water in small amounts at a time until the dough molds well.
  5. Have fun molding a second critter; it could be very similar or quite different from your first creation, but try to make something of similar height and size. Feel free to decorate this creation with waterproof items. Keep your creation in that container.
    Think about:
    Does this dough feel similar or different compared to the other one?
  6. Admire your creations. In the next step, you will melt them by pouring vinegar over your creations (but do not do it yet)!
    Think about:
    Can you predict what will happen? Remember that the main ingredient of your dough is baking soda. Have you ever mixed baking soda with vinegar before? What happened? Would something similar happen now?
  7. Fill your measuring cup with vinegar and pour all of it at once over your first creation.
    Think about:
    What happens? What do you see and hear? Is it as you expected, or is it different?

  8. Fill your measuring cup again with vinegar and pour all the vinegar at once over the other creation.
    Think about:
    What happens this time? What do you see and hear? What is similar and what is different between the two containers? Do you remember what was different between the two recipes? Would that explain the difference between the observations?

  9. Most likely, your critter is partly destroyed and only partially standing. Try something different this time; find out what happens when you pour water over your critters.
    Think about:
    What do you think will happen?
  10. Rinse your measuring cup and fill it with water. Pour all of it at once over whatever is left of your first creation.
    Think about:
    What happens? Is pouring water over it as exciting as pouring vinegar over it?

  11. Fill the measuring cup again with water. In a minute, you will pour if over what is left of your second creation.
    Think about:
    Can you predict what will happen if you pour it, all at once, over whatever is left of your second creation?
  12. Go ahead.
    Think about:
    Was your prediction right?
  13. If your creations are still partially standing, keep trying out different actions.
    Think about:
    What happens if you pour slowly? Take some dough in your hand and pour vinegar or water over it as you hold it over the container. How does it feel?

Cleanup

Pour your liquid solutions down the drain. Any solid dough can be thrown in the trash.

What Happened?

Did both creations fizz as soon as vinegar touched them? When vinegar comes in contact with baking soda, the two chemicals react with each other. The result is a gas bubbling up in a watery solution. The bubbles create the fizz and sizzling sound.

Whatever was left of your first creation (the one without the soap) was probably standing in a pool of a bubbling watery solution, where bubbles burst open as they reached the liquid surface. This was probably different for your other container. The leftovers of the second creation—which had dishwashing soap mixed into the dough—were probably surrounded by a layer of white foam. Chemicals in detergent allow soapy solutions to spread out. The bubbles created in the chemical reaction still rose to the surface, but now, the soapy solution trapped the bubbles, forming a foam.

As water does not react with baking soda, pouring water over your creations probably just washed away some dough without any sizzling, fizzing, or foaming.

Digging Deeper

Just a few common and safe household chemicals—baking soda, vinegar, and dishwashing soap—can lead to an interesting project that examines two areas of chemistry.

Vinegar (or diluted acetic acid) combined with baking soda (also called sodium bicarbonate) yields a cascade of two chemical reactions. The end products are carbon dioxide (CO2, the gas we breathe out) and water, in which two chemical products (sodium ions and acetate ions) are dissolved. As you observe this reaction, you see the carbon dioxide gas as bubbles rising to the surface of the liquid and hear a fizzing noise. Other acids, such as those in lemon juice, can also be used to make the dough fizz. Neutral solutions (such as water) or base solutions (such as milk) will not cause a chemical reaction. Neither creation will start fizzing when these are poured over them.

Soaps cover a different aspect of chemistry. They contain surfactants, or surface-active agents. These agents reduce the surface tension of the liquid. This reduction allows the solution to spread out and as such, helps to create foam. Foam is formed by pockets of air or gas trapped in a thin layer of liquid. Foam does not form on pure water, as water likes to stick together. Air bubbles rising to the water surface push through and escape, but adding surfactants to the water allows the soapy liquid to spread out and trap the air bubbles, so a layer of foam forms.

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For Further Exploration

  • Repeat the activity using different liquids to pour over the creations, such as lemon juice or soda or milk. Before you pour, what do you think will happen—and why? After you did your exploration, can you explain what your observed?

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Links

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