Differential Solubility Experiment

by Terry 8/20/2008 2:24:00 PM

Monday and Tuesday night I started working chemistry experiments with Kaitlin. I was working in the garage and Kaitlin started to get excited and beg to do some experiments. Wow, how can I argue with that! So, together we worked on lab 6.1, Differential Solubility: Separating Sand from Sucrose, from the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. I can call the whole event a success and a learning experience.

Most importantly, Kaitlin had fun, and I enjoy working with her. I hope her enthusiasm grows with time. At her age, currently eight, she loses interest in many activities after 45-60 minutes. This is typical with most kids her age, I have learned and see this when I teach martial arts and I was reminded of this while working the lab. In essence, I can do many experiments with Kaitlin, but I have to be mindful of how long portions will take. I may need to let her go play someplace else if an experiment ends up being a lesson in hurry-up-and-wait. Surprisingly separating sand from sucrose was an example of this.

I did the experiment using sand from a large bag of ‘play sand’ I purchased at a big-box hardware store. This play sand is low quality with coarse and variegated particle sizes and materials. That is, it is as much silt as it is pebble. When mixing equal mass of the sand and sucrose (powdered confectioners’ sugar, in my case), adding water and filtering the mixture, I noticed it took hours for the sand to drain. It held the water like a sponge. I expected this to a point, so I let the filter apparatus sit overnight and it was still holding water the next day. This really drove home the point on managing Kaitlin’s time when working experiments.

The end results are interesting. The play sand retained almost 5% of the sucrose mass, despite liberal rinsing with water. The increased volume of water meant it took much longer to evaporate the filtrate and recover the sucrose than if I could have used a third the volume of water. Again, this is another point to consider when working with an eight-year-old. The retained mass and the physical nature of the sand turned the filterant mass into a kind of candied concrete once I dried it in my small oven. Still, I call the experiment a success overall, particularly since all my masses are accounted for, within margins of error.

So, now I am looking at the same experiment again, with an eye toward timing and materials. The play sand is good for some further experimentation. I would like to know more about its composition, for example. However, I am looking at working with kids, ages 8 to 19 at the moment. I need to consider doing the same experiment with a very consistent and uniform sand source, like filtered aquarium sand, where the particles do not retain or react with the filtrate.

One thing I am trying to note carefully as I walk through experiments in the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments is the time it takes to complete each lab. This will help as I rework experiments for my ‘science club’ and in scheduling time.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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