What will happen if you place styrofoam peanuts in acetone?
SAFTEY: This is a really cool experiment, but it requires a few safety precautions. Acetone should only be handled by an adult and due to the fumes of acetone, it should be done outside. Also teach your students to never inhale an unknown substance. The person handling the acetone should wear safety goggles.
Drop peanuts in the mystery liquid and observe.
Now have the students predict what will happen if you place a styrofoam cup in the liquid. Do this and observe.
Background Information: This is a tricky one. It looks like a chemical reaction because it is so dramatic, but actually it is a physical reaction. Acetone is the main ingredient in nail polish remover. The acetone which is a solvent, causes the styrene in the styrofoam to dissolve. This releases the air pockets that have been trapped. The substance left is still the same substance, it has just lost all of the air pockets. If you put it in some kind of machine and whipped it around, blowing air into the substance..it would puff up again. This is why we say this is a physical change. The substance did not change on a molecular level and in theory, it could be reversed.
Since styrofoam is mostly air, you may be surprised and how much styrofoam you can dissolve in one cup of acetone. A cup of acetone is enough to dissolve an entire bean bag's worth of styrofoam!
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For another great experiment idea see Making Fog bubbles Out of Dry Ice
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Thank you to my former students and now awesome new teachers, Whitney Johnson, Holly Davies, and Jennifer Delfin for this great blog post idea.