Maker Challenge: Having a Ball with Chemistry and Engineering

Contributed by: Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT) RET, Rice University

Quick Look

Grade Level: High school

Time Required: 2 hours (wild guess!)

Subject Areas: Chemistry, Science and Technology

A photograph showing thirteen bouncy balls all consisting of different colors and sizes.
Engineer a bouncy ball using knowledge of chemistry!
copyright
Copyright © 2019 Kevin Casper, Public Domain, Public Domain Pictures, https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=80769&picture=bouncy-ball-toys

Maker Challenge Recap

Students work as materials and chemical engineers to develop a bouncy ball using a select number of materials. They first develop a plan of what materials they might need to design their product. Then, the students create and test their bouncy ball. Based on their tests, students then determine how to re-design and retest their creations to create the bounciest ball possible!

Maker Materials & Supplies

  • Give students a range of materials from different brands; for example, the glue could be plain white a different variety such as red or purple, or glue that contains glitter. Students should be able to choose from the following:
    • water
    • glue sticks
    • cornstarch
    • Elmer’s glue
    • baking soda
    • salt
    • sugar
    • borax
    • yellow wood glue
  • Lab and mixing equipment
    • metric ruler
    • hot plate
    • water
    • gloves
    • apron
    • Ziploc bags
    • clear cups (12 oz.) or less
    • wooden craft sticks
    • plastic spoons
    • measuring spoons (preferably tablespoons and teaspoons so that students are not prone to using large amounts of materials)
  • Smartphones, tablets, or computers for research
  • Budget Planning Guide and Student Guide

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/makerchallenges/view/rice2-2422-ball-chemistry-engineering-design-maker-challenge] to print or download.

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Kickoff

[Show the Having a Ball with Chemistry PowerPoint Presentation]

Companies are in constant competition to create the best products possible for consumers, whether they are food, cars, video games, or toys. 

Toy companies want products that are cheap to make but are worthwhile to sell. For our class, we will take on the role of engineers for the [insert your own toy company name]. This brand-new company wants materials and chemical engineers to design a new bouncy ball that they can produce at the lowest cost possible.

Today your challenge is to create the bounciest ball out of a select number of materials. You will work with one other team member to create your product. You and your partner can use as much or as little of any product possible. However, keep in mind that you must create the most cost-effective ball, meaning you want to use the least amount of materials.

Once you design your product, you will measure the width of your ball as well as measure how far your ball bounces. The team with bounciest ball wins and gets the contract to work with [insert toy company]!

Resources

Maker Time

Pair students up and give each a Student Guide. Let the students brainstorm ideas on how to create their product. They can research how to use each solid and liquid reagent available to them, and how it play into their design. Once students create a plan, allow students to design their ball. An effective plan is one in which they write down approximately how much of each material they think they’ll want to use as well as how to mix them. 

Creating a bouncy ball from scratch can be hard. Some may succeed on their first try but many may fail. Let students know that they will not see a reduction in total point for their project if they fail. An important part of the engineering design process is to redesign and retest their product. As pairs may fail, let them know that this is the real world and they can talk to other groups for help, but they cannot copy someone else’s idea. Let students synthesize their first prototype. Synthesis and reiterations should not take more than 30 minutes.

Make sure students write down their exact synthesis procedure, including amounts. Their product should be replicable, so they should strive to produce a clean set of directions.

If a student is successful in their design, then they can measure how high their ball bounces. The group with the bounciest ball wins. A variation or addition is to have students record their bounces so the class has accurate results from each group. You can also have all groups wait until everyone has made a ball and measure them all at the same time. 

This activity can get very messy so it is important that pairs work efficiently. Make sure that they are not throwing away glue into the sink—rather, have a waste bucket where they can dispose of leftover materials. Any solid waste can go in the trash. 

Wrap Up

As students compete for the top spot, have them place the results of their bounce test on the board for students to see and analyze.

Additionally, you could have students create a commercial or advertisement for their product. This would allow them to work collaboratively while also thinking of ways to engage consumers through communication.

Tips

  • Have cleaning supplies and paper towels or wipes handy to clean the lab area. 
  • Do not let students throw away any glue product into the sink. If students and when students want to clean their hands then they must first wipe them on paper towels, then clean their hands with soap and water.
  • Water waste can be put in the sink. Glue or solid materials should be disposed in the trash.
  • A possible solution to make a bouncy ball is as follows: 2 tablespoons of water, 2 teaspoons of borax, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of Elmer’s glue.

Contributors

Selene Reyes

Copyright

© 2019 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2018 Rice University

Supporting Program

Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT) RET, Rice University

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Rice University Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT) RET grant no.1449500. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last modified: October 14, 2019

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