Holiday Chemistry—Pin It!


I’m a recent convert to Pinterest. It allows you to create your own virtual bulletin boards and fill them by “pinning” images that then link back to the websites you wish to remember. It’s a way to collect web content you like, with the visual pop of the images to help you remember what you pinned. I’m slowly populating my boards with pins, but often I’m more interested in using the site to see what other people have pinned. In particular, I’m curious to see the pins that connect to chemistry. Something that’s cropped up lately with the holidays fast approaching are pins to borax crystal ornaments.

What’s the chemistry? You make a supersaturated solution with boiling water and borax powder, then suspend a shape you’ve twisted out of pipe cleaners in the solution. The bristles of the pipe cleaners offer lots of places for the borax to crystallize as the solution cools and can no longer hold as much of the borax in solution.

After a quick stop at the Dollar Store for pipe cleaners (decided on sparkly gold), I grabbed my box of 20 Mule Team Borax from the laundry room, and got started. Snowflake shapes are highly popular on Pinterest, so I started there. Here’s a summary:

  1. Cut a 12-inch pipe cleaner into three equal pieces.
  2. Use one piece as the center. Twist a second piece around the first to form the “arms” of the snowflake. Repeat with a third piece, for six symmetrical arms.
  3. Tie a string to the tip of one of the arms.
  4. Take a wide-mouthed glass jar or beaker. Suspend the snowflake in the chosen container so it does not touch the bottom of the container by tying or taping the other end of the string to a pencil that rests across the mouth of the container. Temporarily remove the pencil and snowflake from the container.
  5. Prepare a supersaturated borax solution—Boil tap water, then measure it by cups into the container. For each cup of water in the container, add 3 tablespoons of borax powder. Stir well. Borax powder may remain at the bottom of the container.
  6. Place the snowflake in the container again, with the pencil resting across the top of the container.
  7. Move the container to a place where it can remain undisturbed overnight. (Check out a close-up of the gorgeous results up top!)
Placing the snowflake into the supersaturated borax solution.
Placing the snowflake into the supersaturated borax solution.
After sitting overnight, a beautiful collection of crystals.
After sitting overnight, a beautiful collection of crystals.

A quick search on Pinterest showed a huge variety of shapes to try—borax crystal rainbows made with colored pipe cleaners, monograms, beautifully-elaborate snowflake designs, hearts, the American flag, candy canes, shamrocks, a Halloween spider, an Easter egg, stars, icicles, and even crystallizing the borax onto feathers. I love the idea of adapting it to fit other holidays and uses.

Looking for other holiday chemistry resources? Visit the latest ACS ChemClub Activity of the Month “Holiday Chemistry” or follow ACS ChemClubs on Pinterest!

Do you integrate holidays into your Club and classroom? What are some of your favorite resources?


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