Discovery DIY: Chemistry Crystal Creatures!

Discovery DIY: Dreadful Decor Crystal Creatures!

It is officially spooky season! We’ve got a fun and easy way for you to create some cool crystal creations! You can decorate your home, or give your creations to your friends and family as cool spooky-themed gifts.

Discovery DIY: Chemistry Crystal Creatures Time Lapse!

Here’s what you need:

  • Clear jar or cup
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Borax
  • Hot water
  • Pen or pencil
  • Fishing line, wire, or string

Directions:

  1. Make your spooky-themed item out of pipe cleaners. Show your creative side! What can you make?
  2. Boil water. Tip: heat water on the stove or with an electric tea kettle. Adult supervision required! Do not use a microwave to heat water.
  3. Mix 1 part borax into 4 parts water. Tip: Stir the borax until it dissolves completely.
  4. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
  5. While your mixture is cooling, tie your creation to a pencil and place the pencil across the top of your container, letting your creation dangle inside the container. Tip: make sure your creation doesn’t touch the bottom or sides of your container. You may have to adjust your string.
  6. Clear crystals will start to form on your creation. This process takes 5-8 hours, so be patient and check on the awesome progress as often as desired.
  7. Once you’re satisfied with the crystals that have formed, remove your crystal creation from the container and remove the string.

Here are the answers to some questions you might have after doing this experiment:

Q: Why did we use borax?
Borax, or sodium borate, is extremely versatile and is used in numerous products, including cosmetics, laundry detergent, enamel glazes, fiberglass, and insecticide. It is also used for crafts and science experiments like this one!

Powdered borax is made up of tiny soft crystals. Powdered borax is partially soluble, meaning it dissolves in water. Borax is more soluble in hot water than in cold water, which is why we mixed the borax with boiling water.

Q: What caused the crystals to form?
When the borax is mixed into the boiling water, it dissolves. However, as the water begins to cool, the borax becomes less soluble, causing it to separate from the water.

When the borax separates from the water, it moves around looking for a boundary, or a place to land. When it finds a boundary, it accumulates as the water cools. This accumulation continues over time.

In our experiment, the boundary is the pipe cleaner. You also might have noticed that the container accumulated some crystals as well. The container is another boundary in our experiment. This is why it was important that the pipe cleaner wasn’t touching the container.

As the dissolved soft crystals continue to move toward a boundary, they form larger hard crystals on the pipe cleaner. The accumulation of the borax on the boundaries is an example of a process called sedimentation.

Q: Why does the process take several hours?
The sedimentation process occurs due to the continued accumulation of the borax onto the pipe cleaners, so the crystals continue to grow more and more layers. Leaving your creation in the mixture for only a short time would only allow a portion of the borax to accumulate on the pipe cleaner.

Q: Why didn’t the crystals need dye?
The crystals are opaque, so you can use any color pipe cleaner to be creative and make whatever you can imagine. Keep it simple-no dye required!

The first time we did this, it didn't work! It's true. Check out the picture above for our wet, but not crystal-covered spider. 

It's okay! Failure is an important part of the scientific process! The first time we tried the experiment, crystals did not form. If your crystals don’t form, you may need to troubleshoot. There were a few key mistakes that we made sure to correct on our next attempt.

  • When we first attempted the experiment, we microwaved the water instead of boiling it. This didn’t allow the water to become hot enough without also making the container scalding hot.
  • The borax in one of our containers did not fully dissolve in the water because the temperature was too low. The water in this container had too much time to cool outside of the microwave before we added the borax. As a result, most of the borax that we poured into the container did not dissolve, and instead settled to the bottom of the container.
  • Make sure to mix in the borax immediately after the hot water is added to your container. It’s okay for a little bit of borax to settle at the bottom of your container, but if there is a large amount of borax that settles, the water wasn’t warm enough.
  • The water in our second container was warm enough to dissolve the borax, but no crystals formed because not enough borax was used. The ratio of borax to water used on our first attempt was 1:6. We adjusted the ratio of borax to water to 1:4 for our second attempt.
  • If your crystals don’t form, try adding more borax, making the solution more saturated. A more saturated solution gives the opportunity for more crystals to form, but you don’t want to add so much borax that it won’t dissolve in the hot water.
  • You can also try using distilled water if you want your crystals to look more clear and less opaque.

We made a spider and a pumpkin. What other spooky-themed creatures can you create? Here are some more ideas:

  • Bat
  • Ghost
  • Cat
  • Spider web
  • Witch hat
  • Vampire teeth

Have fun showing off your cool crystal creations! These homemade decorations are sure to make any space look spook-tacular!

Keep an eye out for more spooky-themed projects this month, and let us know if you try any of our Discovery DIY projects at home. We can’t wait to see what you can create!