Program 19: Bouncy Balls!

220px-Colorful_Super_ballWhat better way to kick off our 2013 G3 programs than a little fun with polymers in the shape of BOUNCY BALLS! That’s right. With a few easy to find ingredients, our scientists were able to create their very own bouncy balls. Now, our bouncy balls didn’t have quite the “spunk” of the classic bouncy balls you find in any number of stores – those balls are created under 50,000 pounds of compressed energy! We certainly have some muscles, but not enough to compress the materials that much. Nonetheless, our creations were pretty cool.

Perhaps the first and most famous bouncy ball was the Super Ball created by Wham-O (the company also responsible for frisbees, the Slip ‘n Slide, etc.).  Here are some interesting facts and trivia about that classic toy, as noted on

  • The bouncy ball was invented in 1965 by Norman H. Stingley and sold as the Super Ball by Wham-O
  • They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors (even square!)
  • The average bouncy ball can retain up to 70% of its kinetic energy when thrown at a hard surface (Remember – potential energy is “stored” energy, and kinetic energy is “active” or “released” energy. Retaining that much kinetic energy is why bouncy balls seem to bounce on and on and on…)
  • An average adult can slam a Super Ball down hard enough for the bounce to clear a three-story building!
  • The spin of a Super Ball reverses on each bounce
  • As a promotional stunt, Wham-O made a Super Ball the size of a bowling ball and dropped it off the roof of a 23-story hotel, just to see what would happen. On the second bounce, it destroyed a parked car!

photo-1For our experiment, we used a few simple ingredients based on the recipe shared on

  1. 1 tablespoon of  glue (best to use multipurpose vs. washable)
  2. 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of corn starch
  3. 2 tablespoons water (best if water is warm)
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of Borax (a powdered detergent that can be found in the laundry aisle of most supermarkets)
  5. food coloring (optional)

photo-5photo-2photo-4The key to this experiment is combining the ingredients in the right order, and in the correct ratios. First you want to pour your water and borax into a cup to combine and dissolve the Borax powder. Next, in a separate cup, you should mix the corn starch and glue together (the consistency may start out a little dry, but keep stirring until you have a smooth, liquid-like consistency – like melted frosting). Now, pour the Borax/water mixture into the cup with the glue/corn starch mixture. IMPORTANT! BE SURE TO LET THE COMBINED INGREDIENTS SIT STILL WITHOUT MIXING FOR 20 SECONDS! This gives the ingredients a chance to begin reacting with each other; in other words, the polymer chains get busy linking together. After 20 seconds, begin stirring. Just as our scientists discovered, you’ll see that the mixture quickly solidifies and becomes difficult to stir (NOTE: Not all of the liquid will mix in – there will be some left over). Now pull that solid blob out of your cup, and begin to squeeze it, and roll it, and mush it into the best ball shape you can…and give it a test bounce!

photoPart of the fun with this experiment is playing with different amounts of each ingredient, the size and shape of your ball, etc. to see how you can get the best bouncer. Some of our G3 scientists found that a smaller-sized ball had a better bounce. Others thought it worked better on a carpet then the table top (Can you guess why?). Still others found that if they bounced the balls off of the seats of some of our program room chairs, the balls really soared in the air! With the carpet, and especially with our program chairs, there is more natural “give” or “cushion” in the material you are bouncing the ball on, and thus the ball is able to combine its own momentum with that of the other “bouncy” material to really gain some decent height. Check out the video below of some of our G3 scientists testing the bounce of their creations…

In the final moments of the program, the G3 crew tried their hand at breaking a bouncy ball record I discovered on recordsetter.comThe most standing one-handed catches of a bouncy ball in one minute. The record holder on this site had a count of 62. I am happy to say that several of our group beat that record! We had some counts in the upper 60’s and 70’s! Well done, crew! You definitely earned your bragging rights.

That’s all for now…see you at the next program!

Categories: Polymers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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