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Styrofoam Peanuts and Acetone Experiment with Interactive Notebook Ideas

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.  


a clear glass container
styrofoam packing peanuts
styrofoam cup


Have students predict how many packing peanuts they can fit into a cup with a little mystery liquid at the bottom.  A variation is to have water in one cup and acetone in another cup. 

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.

Questions to Ask Students: What happened?  Is the styrofoam still styrofoam? Does it look different? Would there be any way to take the substance that is left and return it to the original state? Did the peanuts really melt (was heat involved) or did they dissolve?   Did the styrofoam cup dissolve more slowly?  Why? Do you think there is a way to sue this information to help with styrofoam build up in landfills?

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 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!

Interactive Notebook Ideas
You may also like Pop-Up Templates for Interactive Notebooks

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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. 

Below is a Freebie that you may have for your classroom!

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Here is a product I would sure like you to check out!  My popular product STEM Activities for Elementary School The set comes with lesson plans and interactive notebook activities ready to use! Easy to find household materials are all you need!

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Chemical Reaction in Glow Sticks

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