Shattering Sugar – Make Your Own Hollywood Sugar Glass
You’re watching an action movie, and suddenly the hero dives through a glass window! Or a car window shatters as the hero navigates an exciting car chase! The glass looks so real, but believe it or not, Hollywood movie sets rarely use real glass for those scenes. Can you guess what they use instead? If you guessed candy…you’re right! Instead of using real glass, which is expensive and difficult to replace for multiple shots, Hollywood movie sets use Sugar Glass! This cheap, easy to make substitute looks like glass, and tastes like candy! In this activity you’ll make your own beautiful version - a Stained Sugar Glass window that looks good enough to eat!
This activity is not appropriate 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.
Chances are, you’re pretty familiar with table sugar. You know what it tastes like, and probably what it looks and feels like too. You may even know that table sugar comes from sugar canes or sugar beets (that’s right, 20% of the world’s sugar comes from beets!). There are several different types of sugar, distinguished by their chemical structure. The chemical name for table sugar is ‘sucrose’. Sucrose is a relatively large sugar molecule, which can be broken down into smaller, simple sugars called ‘glucose’ and ‘fructose’. For today’s activity, when we say sugar we mean sucrose!
The table sugar crystals we can see and feel are called ‘sugar granules’. Table sugar granules are made up of millions of tiny sucrose molecules, all clustered together. One sugar cube has at least one billion trillion sucrose molecules!
If you’ve ever put a sugar cube or teaspoon of sugar into a cup of tea, or lemonade, you know that sugar usually dissolves in water. When this happens you can’t see the sugar in the liquid (even though you can taste it!).
When sugar is added to water (or water based drinks), those big sugar granules break up into individual sucrose molecules that are too small to see. This happens because the individual sucrose molecules are attracted to the water molecules. They leave the other sucrose molecules behind, to go hang out with some friendly water molecules! Since sucrose and water molecules are attracted to each other, you can dissolve a lot of sugar in water.
However, to get candy to be sweet, we need LOTS of sugar. This is tricky, because water can only hold a limited amount of sugar. Just like a sponge can only hold so much water, water itself can only hold a limited amount of sugar. At a certain point there are too many sucrose molecules, and not enough water molecules to pull them away from each other. When this happens, we say the solution is saturated – it can’t hold any more sugar. When the solution becomes saturated, the sugar granules can’t be pulled apart. When this happens, we can see those undissolved sugar crystals in the water. So how do we get the leftover sugar to dissolve in the water, and make our candy extra sweet? We’ll find out in this activity!
WARNING: Sugar syrup is extremely hot and sticky! The steps below should be done with the assistance and direct supervision of an adult helper.
Extra: Different types of candy can be made by varying the temperature of the sugar, and the rate that it heats and cools. You can experiment with candy making by removing the syrup at lower temperatures, and observing what types of candy are made at each temperature stage. You can experiment with higher temperatures but be careful, sugar burns at 350°.
Extra: For an extra treat – try adding flavor extract to the sugar syrup. Yum!
Observations and Results
In this activity you observed the physical changes that sucrose goes through as it is dissolved in water and heated. When you began the activity at ‘Room Temperature 1’, the solution was saturated, and you were able to see the sugar crystals in the water. However, as you heated the sugar syrup, the sugar dissolved and the solution became clear, so that you could no longer see the individual sugar crystals.
Why did heating the solution allow more sugar to dissolve in the water, when it couldn’t dissolve before? Heating up the solution causes the molecules to move around more, and at greater speeds. As a result, the sugar and water molecules come in contact with each other more often, and with greater force. Imagine building 3 Lego cars, and putting the cars in a jar together. If you gently shake the jar, a few Lego pieces might fall off, but the cars will stay largely intact. However, if you shake the jar harder, the cars will bump into each other more often and with more force, and more pieces will break off. This is similar to what happens when you heat your sugar solution. Water molecules bump into the sugar molecules, causing them to break away from the larger sugar granule.
As the sugar dissolved in the solution, you should have observed other changes in the appearance and feel of the sugar syrup. At each recorded temperature point, the sugar in your solution was at a different stage. These stages are marked by changes in the physical appearance and form of the sugar. These changes take place as the water in the solution boils away, and the sugar concentration of the solution increases. At 230°F, the sugar syrup was at the ‘Thread’ stage. At this stage your sugar syrup is approximately 80% sugar and 20% water, which is still too much water for the syrup to form a shape. When you dropped the syrup in cold water, it formed a very loose, liquid thread, that probably didn’t hold a shape very well. Even though you can’t make candy at this stage, you can make a sugar syrup – maybe to pour over ice cream?!
The next stage of sugar cooking is known as ‘soft ball’ stage, when the temperature of the syrup reaches at 235°F. At this point the sugar concentration is the syrup is approximately 85%, and the name of this stage probably makes sense to you. The higher sugar concentration makes the syrup thicker, allowing it to hold a shape. When you dropped the sugar syrup into cold water, you were able to mold it into a soft, flexible ball. If you removed the ball from the water, you should have observed that it would lose its shape and flatten out. If you removed the sugar from the heat at this point, you could make fudge or pralines!
The next time you tested the syrup, at 245°F, it had reached the ‘firm ball’ stage. Can you guess why this stage has that name? Hopefully you can, because when you dropped the syrup in cold water at this stage, you could form it into a firm ball, that held its shape when removed from the water. At this point the syrup is approximately 87% sugar, and just that small difference in the sugar concentration results in a dramatic change in the firmness of the syrup. Amazing!
The next stage is called ‘hard ball’ stage, reached when the syrup heats to 255°F. At this point the sugar concentration is 92%, and as you dropped the syrup in cold water, you may have observed that it formed thick, rope-like threads as it dripped from the spoon. Because it has less moisture at this stage, once the syrup reached the cold water, it should have formed a hard ball that was more difficult to mold into different shapes. Marshmallows and gummies are made from sugar at the hard ball stage!
When the syrup reached 275°F you may have noticed the syrup in the saucepan had smaller, thicker bubbles. This stage is known as ‘soft-crack’ stage, and the sugar concentration is very high, approximately 95%. As a result, when you dropped the syrup into cold water it should have formed threads that could be bent slightly before they would break. If you wanted to make taffy, you would take the sugar off the heat at this point.
The final stage in this activity is ‘hard-crack’, reached when your syrup heated to 300°F. At this temperature, almost all of the water has boiled off, so the solution is 99% sugar. When you dropped it in the cold water, it should have formed hard, brittle threads that would break easily. This is the stage used to make toffee and hard candies like lollipops – or Sugar Glass like they use in the movies!
You may be wondering why we added the other ingredients; corn syrup and cream of tartar. Adding these ingredients helps to create the clear, glass-like structure we want in this activity. The corn syrup helps prevent the sugar molecules from joining back together and forming large granules (or crystals) as the syrup cools. The cream of tartar helps break the sucrose molecules up even father, into the simple sugars glucose and fructose. And the food dye makes the whole thing a work of art!
More to Explore
Megan Arnett, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
Solubility, temperature, saturation
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