Nicholas Academy

Science | Science Experiment of the Week 4 | 246 - Paper Worms

I don't like ironing work shirts. Recently, Downy came out with a product called Wrinkle Releaser. Now I just spray my shirt, give it a tug and it is done. How can that work?

This Week's Experiment - #246 Paper Worms

These experiments are from Robert Krampf - The Happy Scientist

This week's experiment ties together something from my childhood with something very new. The new thing is a wonderful product that has made my life easier. Now, usually I don't promote products, but this one I really like, and it has some interesting science in it too. I don't like ironing work shirts. Since we travel so much, I have to bring an iron, ironing board, and starch with me, making that much more stuff for me to pack and unpack. Recently, Downy came out with a product called Wrinkle Releaser. Now I just spray the shirt, give it a tug and it is done. How can that work? Part of the answer lies in a childhood trick. To try it, you will need:

a drinking straw with a paper wrapper
paper towel or napkin

If you can't find a straw with a paper wrapper, you can use a wadded up paper towel, but it is not nearly as impressive. To do this right, you need the paper from the straw. It is also important to remove the paper in the right way. Hold the straw loosely and stab it gently onto the table. This makes the straw poke through the top of the paper wrapper and crumples the wrapper a bit. Now you want to force the paper downwards, crumpling it tightly as it slides down the straw. You want the paper to be squeezed down to about an inch long at the bottom of the straw. Then slide the squashed wrapper off the straw and place it on the table. It should remain crumpled up as it lays there. If you are using paper towel, use a small piece and wad it tightly into a ball.

Now comes the fun part. Dip the straw into the water and then put your finger over the end. This will hold some of the water in the straw when you take it out of the water. You want to let one or two drops fall onto the straw wrapper and then watch carefully to see what happens. It begins to move! Not just move, it begins to grow! Sometimes you need another drop or two to get the full effect. As the paper expands, it seems to be a worm that is growing or stretching out.

Why does it do that? Tear a piece of paper towel and look closely at the torn edge. The paper is made up of tiny, thread-like fibers. So is the paper in the straw wrapper, and any other piece of paper. The fibers may be bigger or smaller, but they are what the paper is made from. Where did these fibers come from? Trees. Wood is chopped and processed into a pulp, which is rolled out and dried to form paper. When you add water to the paper, the dried fibers absorb it and expand, just as a sponge swells as it soaks up water. In the crumpled straw wrapper, as the fibers expand, they cause the paper to straighten out some, causing the paper to seem as if it is growing.

Your clothes are also made of fibers. When they are folded, the fibers get bent, forming a crease or wrinkle. By using a chemical which causes the fiber to swell a bit, the wrinkles come right out. This saves me some work, and as my wife will tell you, I am all for saving myself from work. Have a great week.

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