Mystery Putty - polymerisation

Joke: What do you get if you cross a monomer with a monomer? Give up? YOU GET A POLYMER! (I know; I need to get out more...)

Chemists don't always make the funniest jokes, but they can join up a whole bunch of small molecules (monomers) and form long chains (polymers).

What happens when polymers get tangled up?

You'll find out with PVA and Borax...

Try this:

Warning! to teachers and parents! You may need to lay down some newspaper for this one, it can get sticky and messy!

RECIPE #1: Mix one film canister of white glue (add food colour if desired) to one film canister of water then mix well. Then add one film canister of a saturated solution of borax. You can pre-mix the glue with equal parts of water and then add two canisters of the diluted and colored glue before adding the borax.

RECIPE #2: A simpler alternative is to pour some white PVA glue into 1/2 a cup of 4% Borax solution. Slowly stir the PVA into the borax until you can pick it up with your fingers. Wash the putty in a fresh volume of Borax until the putty is as firm as you wish.

The result is a bouncing rubber ball!

You have just carried out a polymerisation reaction, the idea behind the production of plastics and rayon.

Many small molecules (monomers) join up as long chains (polymers) that get tangled up to produce a solid substance.


  1. Try the rayon experiment and then find out as much as you can about the production of plastics.
  2. Can you find out about injection moulding and blow moulding?
  3. Which plastics can be recycled?
  4. The interactive pages...identify these pieces of lab equipment
  5. The interactive pages...weird metals and gases hide in this Periodic Table

RETURN TO FUN! Science Activities and Technology Projects


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