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Surface Tension

Most things that you see and feel are made of tiny particles called
molecules. Molecules are made up of even tinier particles called atoms.
Do you remember what we learned about atoms? There are only 90
kinds of atoms in nature, but different combinations of atoms make up
millions of billions of different molecules that we see around us.
Water is one molecule that you are already familiar with. A
water molecule is made of three atoms: 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen
atom. This is why we call it H2O.

Molecules like to pull together to stop themselves from breaking

up. Today, you will explore how water molecules pull each other

Experiment 1
So, let’s experiment with surface tension! We will see how
dishwashing liquid changes how strong water molecules hold together.

You will need…

 Spoon
 Water
 Clean table top
 Toothpick
 Dishwashing liquid

1. Dip the spoon in some water and then drip it onto the table top.
The water molecules should hold together in little dome shapes.

Water molecules pull in together to

make a round drop.

2. Now, touch the water droplets with the toothpick dipped in

dishwashing liquid. What happens to the water as soon as you
touch it with the soapy toothpick? Are the water molecules
pulling together more strongly or more weakly?

Chemicals in dishwashing liquid

get in the way of water
Experiment 2
If water molecules can tug on each other, can’t they also tug on
things that are afloat? Let’s see!

You will need:

 Water
 Pie tin
 Pepper
 Dishwashing liquid

1. Fill the pie tin with water, and sprinkle some pepper onto the
2. Now, gently touch the water with the toothpick dipped in
dishwashing liquid. What happens to the pepper? Why do you
think this happens?
Water molecules pull equally
towards left and right.

Water molecules pull more weakly on

the side that has soap chemicals
Experiment 3
Now is the time to have some fun! Let’s make a boat that moves
by surface tension.

You will need:

 Pie tin (pour out all the soapy water)
 Clean water
 Spoon
 Plastic sheet
 Bar of soap

1. Cut the plastic sheet into a shape of a boat (about 1 inch)
2. Scrape the bar of soap with the bottom edge of the boat.
3. Fill the pie tin with clean water, and carefully place the boat onto
the water. What happened to the boat? Can you explain why
this happened?

Boat should look like this.

The What and Whys about Water

1. Explain surface tension.

2. Why can pond skaters swim across the water without sinking?

3. Why can’t you skate across the water like pond skaters?

4. Can pond skaters skate across soap water? Why do/don’t you think

5. When you spill a droplet of water on a clean table, water molecules

hold together to make a dome shape. What would a water droplet
look like in space, where there’s no gravity?