Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Stacking Sugar Cubes to Make Candy Canes: Absorption and Dissolving Experiment

Candy canes are delicious and we sure to enjoy eating and exploring them.  I challenged the girls to make a candy cane out of sugar cubes (after all both are pretty sugary!).  Although we did not get the traditional candy cane crook shape we did have fun building a tower of alternating red and white sugar cubes.  This was also a fun way to introduce the term "absorption" and "dissolving".    The girls will probably say that the best part was the taste test!

We started out with Little Bear and Bug each putting a few drops of food coloring in a plate and then pouring in less than a quarter cup of water.   We used red food coloring as the girls picked the traditional red and white candy canes to mimic for the experiment/challenge.

We started by exploring what would happen if we put a sugar cube into the red water.   WHOA!  The sugar cube turned red.  It was fast!!!  We were all surprised at the speed.  This was such a fun way to show the girls that the sugar cube absorbed the red water.  

After dropping a few more sugar cubes into the water and watching them turn red the girls were challenged to start the white stripe of the candy cane.  They put a white cube on top of the red one and well... it turned red too - even if it was not touching the water.  It absorbed the water but was a little slower.  We put a third cube on top and it absorbed the red water too - but much slower.

We also started noticing that some of cubes from earlier started to disappear. They were getting smaller and getting cracks in them.  You could see sugar granules in the water around them.  They were starting to be dissolved in the water.

So we added a few new cubes and then thought about what we could do to make the different color layers.  What if we put something very solid between them - something like a piece of tinfoil.   Eureka!  That worked.  The white cube on top did not turn red.   We had put a barrier that the water could not cross between them and that stopped the white cube from absorbing the water.  

If we put another red cube on top of our white cube without a barrier we saw that the white cube went red and the red cube became paler or more dilute.  

So now we knew we needed a barrier between each layer and could start to build our stacks of sugar cubes that alternated colors.  Unfortunately we had taken a while to think this through and our foundation cube had begun to dissolve so we did not build very high.   

After our tower fell over we just had a great time building with our cubes to see what kinds of towers and structures we could build before they dissolved.  Although the dissolved pieces sometimes gave us some interesting shapes to build with.

We did also look at what happens if we put the cubes next to each other.  We could see that the white cubes still absorbed the water just a little slower and from the side and bottom.   

This was a fun, quick and easy experiment that introduced some new terms: absorb, dissolve and dilute.   Furthermore, I think that the girls really enjoyed it, especially as it had a great wow factor in the beginning too!

  • Sugar Cubes
  • Food Coloring
  • Water (less than a quarter cup)
  • Plate
  • Aluminum foil

  1. Place a few drops of food coloring on a plate.
  2. Add a small amount of water - just enough to cover the bottom of the plate.
  3. Add a sugar cube to the colored water and watch what happens.
  4. Stack another cube on top of the first cube and see what happens.
  5. Place a new cube in the water.
  6. Tear a small piece of aluminum foil and place it on the new cube.
  7. Place the a new white cube on top of the foil.
  8. Alternate foil and cubes to create the candy cane stripes.
  9. Place and explore with the cubes in the colored water.


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