Science project

Straight to Curly Hair

  • List the states of matter and provide an example for each state.
  • Define the terms, physical and chemical change and cite an example for each kind of change.
  • Research human hair and describe the actual structure of a hair shaft and how it is produced by our hair follicles.
  • Describe the function of proteins in the bonding of hair.
  • What do disulfide and hydrogen bonds have to do with curling your hair?
  • What is the function of thioglycolic acid in permanent wave solutions?
  • What is the function of hydrogen peroxide in the permanent wave process?
  • What are some of the ways we can curl our hair on a temporary basis?
  • What do we actually do to hair when we attempt to curl it?
  • From a multicultural perspective, how do other cultures style their hair and for what purposes?

On an information level, this project deals with the concepts of physical and chemical changes. When we change our hairstyle, we may be undergoing either a physical or a chemical change or both. Given the operational definition of a physical change as one in which there may be a change in physical properties such as the size, the shape or the phase which results in the same product and the operational definition of a chemical change is which existing chemical bonds are broken and the resultant product is a new substance, the student explores the process of curling hair in search of an answer. On a process level, the student learns to use the scientific method, formulating a testable hypothesis as well as focusing on the dependent and independent variables, using a control when required, recording observations and a conclusion congruent with the obtained data.

  • foam hair rollers
  • curling iron
  • fabric or rag
  • hair mouse or gel
  • hair spray
  • camera

These may be purchased from a local Walmart, Kmart or CVS.

  1. Clearly specify your objective. Your task is to curl your hair and in the process of doing so to determine what actually happens to your hair, is it undergoing a physical or a chemical change?
  2. State your hypothesis. Do you view curling as a physical or chemical change?
  3. Gather all of the materials needed for this experiment. You may wish to include a camera, taking pictures of each of the processes you will use to curl your hair as well as the steps in some of the processes.
  4. Make a copy of the Data Chart to record your observations as a result of each process.
  5. You are going to shape your hair into curls using 5 different methods, compare the results and select the one you view as most effective and least damaging to your hair.
  6. In each of the following 5 methods, you will begin by wetting your hair, no dripping, just damp. You may apply a small amount of gel or mousse .This will set or stiffen your curls and hold them in place.
  7. On day 1, you will use method #1 .You will shape the hair into curls using foam rollers.  Wet hair, apply mousse or gel and roll hair on foam rollers. Take a photo.  Allow the hair to dry overnight. Remove rollers. Spritz with hair spray to set. Take a photo of results. Feel your hair. Record observations.
  8. On day 2, comb hair, straighten it out, wet it again, use same amount of gel or mouse and use the Braid Method to make curls. Braid your hair. Let dry. Spritz with hair spray to set again, takes photos of before and after.
  9. On day 3, wash your hair and let dry. We do not want an excessive build up of gel or mousse. Do no wet your hair, use your curling iron and make your curls. Spritz with hair spray to set. Take photos before and after.  Record your observations.
  10. On day 4, wet hair, use mousse or gel and use fabric or rags to make curls. Take photos. Sleep on it. Was it comfortable compared to the rollers?  Remove rags. Spritz with hair spray to set. Take photo. Record observations on condition of hair.
  11. Finally on day 5, wet hair, apply mousse or gel and get ready----tie your hair in knots. Let dry. Unwind.   Spritz with hair spray to set. Take photos and record observations.
  12. Review all of your data. Review all of your photos. Which method gave you the best looking curls? Which method did you find might be damaging to your hair when used frequently? Which method was most comfortable?
  13. Review your arm chair research. Go one step further, check on the role of disulfide and hydrogen bonds in curly versus straight hair.
  14. At the local supermarket or CVS inspect the labels on Permanent Wave products. Note the ingredients. What is the function of thioglycolic acid? What does hydrogen peroxide do to the hair?
  15. Write up your report. What was your hypothesis? What was your conclusion as to the kind of change curling your hair would be classified as in terms of the methods you used physical or chemical change? How would you classify using a permanent solution?  Be certain to include your photos and bibliography.

Data Chart

Methods to Curl Hair


Foam Rollers




Curling Iron


Fabric or Rags





Photo Chart

Methods to Curl

          Photos Before

       Photos After

Foam Rollers






Curling Iron



Fabric or Rags








Terms/Concepts: states of matter;  physical change; chemical change; bonding; chemical bonds hair shaft; hair follicles; fiber bundles; straight hair; curly hair; hardening solution


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