On the Ninth Day of Christmas Science, my mommy made with me…Borax crystal ornaments for our tree!
One of my favorite holiday traditions involves making our own ornaments for our Christmas tree. We’ve made salt dough ornaments, gingerbread people, and have painted and decorated our own beautiful glass bulbs! One of our favorite ornament making projects combines the creativity of making our own sculptures with the chemistry and physics of creating stunning crystal structures!
You can grow your own crystals with a variety of ingredients, including salt, sugar, alum, and Borax. For this project, we chose Borax because I really loved the large cubic crystals that resulted from our growth project. You can find 20 mule team Borax in your laundry aisle of your grocery store, or you can buy it on Amazon. Make sure you keep it on hand for slime projects too!
20 Mule Team Borax
Clean jar (mason jar or other wide-mouthed jars)
1/4 cup of hot tap water
Almost boiling water
Safety goggles and gloves
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Heat a kettle or pot of water until it is almost boiling. While waiting, add the hot tap water to the jar. This will allow the jar to come to a higher temperature without shattering.
Bend your pipe cleaner into any shape you like! You could do a star, a snowflake, whatever you like! Make sure you can slip your shape easily in and out of the jar, and tie it off onto a pencil.
When the water is almost to a boil, turn the heat down and SLOWLY add the water to the jar. We added a splash at a time until we filled the jar halfway. Then we added about 1/4 cup at a time. If you add it too quickly, the temperature difference may cause the glass to shatter.
Add your Borax! You’ll want to add 1 Tbsp at a time, stirring until it dissolves. Keep adding Borax and stirring until you can’t dissolve any more into the water. We used about 10 Tbsp per 2 cups of water.
Put your pipe cleaner shape into the jar, with the pencil lying over the mouth. You don’t want the bottom of your shape touching the jar, so keep it just above the bottom.
Within an hour, you should start to see some action, leave it overnight and see what happens!
When we added the Borax into the water, we made a super saturated solution. The hot water allows more solids to be dissolved into it, as the heat allows atoms to move around at a much faster rate.
When the water begins to cool, those Borax molecules are going to want to group back together again into solid structures. Some of them are going to group together on to your pipe cleaner. When that happens, crystals start forming!
It all starts with a seed, just one crystal. Now, there’s a solid structure for all of those other atoms to group onto. When atoms build on top of each other like this, it’s called nucleation! This is the process that forms crystals, as the atoms lock into each other in perfect little arrangements.
You can learn more about the process of nucleation (and see what it looks like under the microscope!) by checking out our extensive salt crystal garden feature here!