Make a Snowflake Anytime of the Year
Make a beautiful, crystal snowflake using only a few simple, household ingredients! This is a great science experiment for kids, and shows how molecules form crystals, and how the crystals shape themselves. It also creates a really cool looking snowflake that is festive for the holidays, or a welcome sight during the scorching summer months.
What you’ll need:
* Pipe cleaners (any color)
* A pencil
* Clean, dry, large peanut butter or pickle jar (or another type of wide mouth jar)
* Piece of string
* 6 Tablespoons of Borax for every 2 cups of water (have an adult help young children); use more or less borax depending on jar size
* 2 cups of water (boiling – have an adult help young children); use more or less water depending on jar size
* A few drops of food coloring (if you want your snowflake crystals to have color)
Step One: Take one of your pipe cleaners and cut it into 3 of 4 pieces, depending on how big you want your finished snowflake to be. Next, lay your pipe cleaner segments across one another, and twist their centers together. The finished product should look a bit like a star with either eight or six points, depending on how many segments you used. If you want to use either white or light blue pipe cleaners, your snowflake will look a bit more realistic, but a bright pink or purple snowflake can look pretty cool, too!
Step Two: Tie the string to the the snowflake so that it stays upright when you dangle it by the string. Tie the other end of the string to the pencil, preferably in the middle of the pencil. Make sure that the string is short enough that the snowflake can dangle in the jar without touching the bottom – test it out while the jar is still empty.
Step Three: Fill the jar with boiling water (for young kids, it is a good idea to have an adult help), then add the borax one tablespoon at a time. Stir in each tablespoon of borax, dissolving as much as you can, before adding the next tablespoon. A bit of borax may settle in the jar – don’t worry, this is normal. For young kids, it is a good idea to have an adult help with the borax.
Step Four: If you are going to add food coloring, now is the time! A bit of blue can make snowflake crystals stand out in a realistic way, but orange, purple, green, or pink snow crystals can be pretty cool, too!
Step Five: Lower the pipe cleaner star into the jar, laying the pencil across the mouth of the jar so that the snowflake can float freely in the borax solution without touching the bottom or sides of the jar. Do not disturb the jar for about a day, then prepare to be amazed – your snowflake will be covered in what looks like little ice crystals!If you want to keep your snowy crystal masterpiece, let it dry, and hang it up in your room!
Why does this work?
This experiment is all about how molecules move and form. The outside of the pipe cleaner segments are covered in repeating 3-D molecule formations that are stacked on top of each other to form the cool little crystals that make up your snowflake.
As you stir the borax (also known as sodium borate, Na2B4O7 -10H2O, according to the Borax page on galleries.com) into the boiling water, most (if not all) of the borax is dissolved because of the temperature of the water; If you were using cold or warm water, not as much of the borax would dissolve. Why is this? Because the boiling water molecules move around the container much faster than cold water molecules, giving the borax much more room to maneuver and dissolve.
As the water cools, and the water molecules slow down, the borax molecules are forced close together again. The result is a bunch of stacked borax molecules that resemble crystals, and form one very cool snowflake!
1. http://www.galleries.com/minerals/carbonat/borax/borax.htm. December 04, 2009.
2. My old, handwritten science class notes from way back in the 4th grade. We did this experiment as part of my homeschooling science curriculum, and I recently unearthed my spiral bound masterpiece, complete with all of the enthusiastic ramblings of a 8 year old learning science concepts for the first time!