Science Project:

Making Fake Snot!

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Problem

How can a model of nose mucus be made and how can it be broken down?

Materials

  • Stove or microwave oven
  • Saucepan or microwave-safe bowl
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Hot pad
  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • Big spoon
  • Another bowl
  • Whisk
  • Green food coloring
  • Light corn syrup
  • Reseal able 1-gallon plastic bags
  • 12-cup muffin pan (or two 6-cup pans)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Paper and pencil
  • Vinegar, baking soda, meat tenderizer, pineapple juice, orange juice, salt—whatever safe kitchen chemicals you are interested in.
  • 1 teaspoon measurer
  • 11 small spoons

Procedure

  1. Measure 3/4 cup water into saucepan or microwave safe bowl.
  2. Bring the water to boil on the stove or in the microwave.
  3. Remove the pan or bowl from heat.
  4. Add each package of unflavored gelatin to the hot water one at a time, stirring to make sure that the mixture has no lumps before you add the next package.
  5. Just for fun, you can add 3-4 drops of food coloring to mixture, if desired.
  6. Allow the mixture to sit for 1 minute.
  7. Measure 3/4 cup light corn syrup into other bowl.
  8. Slowly stir the gelatin mixture into this bowl. You should notice long strings of material that resemble human mucus (snot). Feel free to play around with it for a while!
  9. After your mixture has been allowed to cool for about 10 minutes, put a tablespoon of the mixture into each of the three muffin cups.
  10. Assign a number to each muffin cup, so you can keep track of what you are going to do to each cup.
  11. Create a data table. Here’s a suggestion:

Cup Number

Treatment

Observations after ½ hour

None

Water

Oil

Baking Soda

Meat Tenderizer

Fresh Pineapple

Rubbing Alcohol

Orange Juice

?

?

?

?

  1. Now, you can start doing experiments!
  2. Cup #1 won’t have anything added to it—we’ll leave this cup alone. What purpose do you think this cup serves?
  3. In Cup #2, add 1 teaspoon of water. What purpose do you think this cup serves?
  4. Using a clean spoon, stir the water into the mixture.
  5. In the other cups, add 1 teaspoon of whatever substances you are interested in. Stir, using a clean spoon for each cup. Why do you think it’s important to use a clean spoon for each cup? Why do you think you were asked to add the same amount to each cup?
  6. If you want, you can also consider add the same substance to multiple cups to see if you get the same result each time.
  7. Set the muffin tin in a quiet place for one half hour.
  8. Examine the mixture in each cup. Has the mixture changed? How? You might try lifting up the snot with the spoon. Is it thicker or thinner than the control (cup 1)? Record your observations in your data table.

Results

Your results will vary depending on what substances you chose and the starting consistency of your mixture, but here are some things you might notice: Adding water makes the mixture thinner. Adding pineapple, meat tenderizer, or papaya makes the mixture much thinner. Sugar makes the mixture thicker. Rubbing alcohol makes it thinner.

Why?

You put nothing in Cup 1 because it was your control. You needed some way to remember what the mixture was like before you altered it! Cup 2 can be considered a second control, even though you added water to it. Here’s why: Many of the substances you add, like juice, might contain water, so it’s definitely a good idea to see what water does on its own. This way, you’ll know whether or not there’s actually something chemically special about the liquids you’re adding to each cup. You need to use a clean spoon for each cup because you don’t want traces of what you put in one cup to get into another cup. You added the same amount of liquid to each cup because this lets you compare the effects of one equal volume of liquid relative to another.

Water alone or in juice thinned the snot mixture, because it allowed the gelatin proteins and corn syrup sugars to spread around in a greater volume. Gelatin contains lots of protein. Fresh pineapple fruit or juice, papaya, and meat tenderizer all contain enzymes that break down proteins, so if you treated your snot with any of those, the protein polymers would have been broken down and the mixture would have been much thinner. Oil has different properties that either water or gelatin, so it does not interact much with the snot mixture.

Going Further

Although excess mucus can annoy us when we have a cold, mucus serves a very important purpose in our bodies: It traps dirt and dust before they can enter our lungs. So if you want to design a medicine that breaks down mucus in the future, please make sure it doesn’t remove all of it!

If you want to make simulated boogers (which are really just the result of mucus trapping dirt and dust), ask a grown-up to shake some of the contents of vacuum cleaner bag on a batch of your snot. Let dry.

Author: Beth Touchette
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