Playing with Polymers: Make Slime at Home

I love home science projects. If it can be done on a stovetop with cooking ingredients, I’ve probably done it at some point. I’ve angered roommate and significant other alike by clanging pots and pans at 2am, or by using said pots and pans to make questionable substances*. It’s just part of who I am and what I do. I get bored at night and ferment soybeans in a cooler.

Today’s project has a bit of history. I used to run a metal sculpture shop at an art and performing arts camp in Connecticut. Some days, the staff and I would deem it to be too hot to be running fiery tools or wearing heavy protective coats and masks. While rummaging in the tool shed for something for the campers to do, I realized we had the ingredients to make slime, or Gak. PVA glue is fairly easy to come by, and its applications range from bookbinding to woodworking. It’s a tough, all purpose glue. Borax is a little trickier to find these days, where once it was a common household laundry booster. I kept a box around for when we did bronze sculptures, as borax makes a great flux, which purges the melting metal of impurities that can then be skimmed off the top of the crucible.

Add some paint for color, and soon enough we had the campers making slime by the bucketful, and the staff could take a break from the loud machinery. It’s also a great lesson in non-newtonian fluids, as even the runniest slime can be quickly rolled up into a ball, only to slowly return to a more fluid state.

This is a great project to do with kids due to the minimal prep work and simple process. Earlier this week, I took a trip up to 92Y’s Camp Yomi as part of the New York Academy of Science’s visiting scientist program. I brought the borax solution and glue pre-mixed in condiment bottles. We made a huge mess, but the kids had a blast, and hopefully took home more than just a plastic egg full of slime.

For an even slimier slime, ditch the Polyvinyl Acetate for Polyvinyl Alcohol. You can find that recipe, as well as an in depth look at the chemistry behind the slime-making process here.

_*Don’t worry, everything I’ve made has been nontoxic. _