03 May 2011

Fun with SAP (super absorbent polymer)

Recently I've been having the urge to play with (science) toys.  The way I see it, there are three probable explanations:

1) I need a creative outlet for my inner, hands-on geek (since I don't work in a lab anymore).
2) I am secretly jealous every year when I buy sciencey toys as gifts for my nieces and nephews every year.
3) It is a reaction to this whole aging business.

Regardless of the root cause(s), sometimes you just have to look yourself in the eye and say,  

"I need to buy that packet of Grow Snow hanging from a display in the grocery store cereal aisle.  Better yet, make it two packets...for my sanity."

Followed by,

"And now I need to play with it."

With that said, please enjoy the fruits of my self-indulgence...

Fun with super absorbent polymer from Timothy Oleson on Vimeo.

Lest you think this post has zero educational value, though, here’s a quick experiment:

Super absorbent polymer quickie experiment from Timothy Oleson on Vimeo.
(Note that the "calculations" in this video are all volumetric and very approximate.)

FYI links:
Sodium polyacrylate 
Sodium chloride
Madison, WI tap water
Hydrogen bonding

In case you're wondering, SAP is...

Lastly, a gallery from my adventure with the super absorbent polymer sodium polyacrylate:

So colorful!

Missing a couple Olympic rings
Psychedelic fried egg


  1. You make SAP look so good. I always thought it was a button on my remote.

  2. Woa! That makes me want to try it too.

  3. I love the videos, these are great and I totally support a little random grocery store inspired science fun. I love the comparison to January snow and April snow in the last video, very clever!

  4. Not gonna lie, I've bought/played with this stuff before. I'm pretty sure it's the same absorbent technology used in baby diapers (at least I think so!).

    I didn't investigate the science at play, so thanks for sharing. I'm also a fan of the "things you picked up at the grocery store" series name...

  5. Awesome post, Tim! And, you're NEVER too old to play with toys! :) Dare I say that I was given a singing John McCain doll as a post-election 2008 gift (or consolation prize ;)? I'm happy to say that this political geek has certainly learned a lot from all of the science geeks in class this semester. :)

  6. I also get jealous when I buy my nieces stuff. Nice reactions from the peanut gallery there. I assume it's non- toxic? See my blog, I've got toxics on the brain