Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making a Superball

The familiar high bouncing & colorful superballs are actually Silicate based polymers that can be easily made by mixing two liquids together to form a solid with amazing elastic properties...

The familiar and colorful 'superballs' that bounce with amazing amounts of energy are actually Silicate based polymers. In the following experiment, two common liquids are mixed, and a reaction takes place that forms a solid that has the properties of rubber.

Chemicals Required:
- Sodium Silicate
- Ethyl alcohol or Phenolphthalein

Procedure:
  1. Measure 20 mL of Sodium Silicate solution and pour it into a small beaker. Sodium Silicate can be irritating to the skin so avoid contact and wear disposable gloves.
  2. Place 5 mL of Ethyl Alcohol or Phenolphthalein in another small beaker. If you use Ethyl Alcohol, the ball will be clear/white in color. If you use Phenolphthalein, the ball will be bright pink in color.
  3. Add the alcohol to the sodium silicate solution.
  4. Stir quickly with a popsicle stick or glass rod until the solid has formed.
  5. Gather up the solid polymer and while wearing disposable gloves, squeeze the material into a ball shape. Be patient and keep squeezing the material together until it no longer crumbles. It may help to moisten the ball occasionally by holding it in a small stream of water.
  6. Bounce your ball.
  7. Store the ball in a small plastic bag. If it breaks apart or gets distorted, simply squeeze it back together into a ball shape.

Reaction:
In Sodium Silicate, the Silicon is bonded to 4 oxygen atoms and is not linked in any chains. The Ethyl Alcohol has just two Carbon atoms. When Sodium Silicate and Ethyl Alcohol are put together, the Silicate particles begin to link up with each other to form long chains as the Ethyl groups replace Oxygen atoms in the Silicate ion. Some become cross-linked between chains. Water molecules are byproducts of the formation of the polymerization bond. This forms a large molecule - a Silicone polymer.

- United Nuclear

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