Do you think you could get a bamboo barbecue skewer through a balloon without popping it? With a little dish soap and some practice, I bet you could! Skewering a balloon is a fun and inexpensive way to demonstrate the structure-dependent properties of polymers. Polymers are made of long, chain-like molecules, which are usually tangled randomly together. Adding a little soap to to the tip of the skewer makes it possible for the tip to slip between the loosely packed chains without tearing the plastic. This activity includes some suggestions about how to most effectively skewer your balloons, and takes it one step farther into a relay race: a silly competition that high school students love. The activity was developed for the University of Alabama at Birmingham's annual summer Materials Camp, and is always a highlight of the program.
Dr. Amber Genau is a faculty member in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been organizing the UAB Materials Camp for high school students since 2011.
Support for Materials Camp at UAB comes from NSF CAREER #1554856 and the ASM Materials Education Foundation.
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