How to Make Goo That Simulates the Movement of a Glacier
Do your kids like Silly Putty or slime?
Do they take pleasure in building things and then destroying them?
Show them the awesome destructive power of the earth with a slippery, oozing goo they’ll love to get their hands in.
In this article I’ll show you how to make Glacier Goo—a type of Silly Putty that will demonstrate the movement of glaciers.
Why Make Glacier Goo?
Glaciers are pretty fascinating things: massive, moving, blue-and-white mountains of ice that destroy nearly everything in their paths, creating landforms such as U-shaped valleys, moraines and kettle lakes, to name a few.
For hundreds of thousands of years, the movement of glaciers has shaped land through erosion and deposition.
Glacier Goo is a really cool way to learn how glaciers transform the earth and literally move mountains—and you don’t have to wait a thousand years to see the results.
Even if the lesson in earth sciences holds your interest longer than your kids’, they’ll have fun with the goo used to demonstrate glaciers’ effects. You may be surprised at how many science facts they remember from this hands-on activity.
Scientists study glaciers because by their movement, they show how the Earth has changed over an incredible period of time.
Motion and change define a glacier’s life. They grow and shrink in response to a changing climate. Currently, the Earth’s climate patterns are changing and glaciers are shrinking (or “retreating”). This may have a great impact on sea levels and weather cycles.
Watch the largest glacial calving event ever caught on video.
We study glaciers to learn whether similar climate changes have happened in the past and to predict what could happen in the future.
You and your family can make your own miniature glacier. It may not teach you how to solve the implications of global climate change, but it will simulate how a glacier moves and it may spark the interest of a future researcher.
Gather your ingredients and let’s make a glacier.
#1: Make Glacier Goo
You’ll make two separate batches of goo—one will be white and the other blue.
Measurements do not need to be exact, but it’s a good idea to start with the suggestions below for the first batch.
Start with the glue. Empty one 8-oz. (240 mL) bottle of white glue into a mixing bowl. Fill the empty bottle half-full with warm water and shake. Pour the glue-water mixture into the mixing bowl and use the spoon to mix.
Mix the Borax. Measure ½ cup (120 mL) of warm water into the plastic cup and add a heaping teaspoon of Borax powder to the water. Stir. Don’t worry if all the powder doesn’t dissolve.
Add Borax to glue. While stirring the glue in the mixing bowl, slowly add a little of the Borax solution. You will feel the long strands of molecules start to connect.
Abandon the spoon and use your hands to mix. Keep adding the Borax solution to the glue mixture until the goo has a putty-like consistency. You should be able to roll it on the table like dough. Let it rest for a little bit and it will spread itself out.
Set that batch to the side.
Repeat the first three steps to make your second batch of goo—but this time, add about 10 drops of blue food coloring to your glue mixture before adding the Borax solution. Try to keep this batch the same consistency as the first.
Now it’s time to combine the blue and white batches together. There’s no right or wrong way, just start twisting and folding the large pieces together until you get a cool swirl of blue and white goo. It’s a lot like pulling taffy.
#2: Simulate a Glacier
Create an incline to observe how a glacier moves. Lay the goo out on a cookie sheet or plastic tray. Use a few books to prop up one end to create a hillside for the goo to flow down.Watch it create some amazing patterns as the mixture flows.
When it reaches the bottom, pick the blob back up, reshape it into a ball and reset it at the top of the cookie sheet. Your kids will want to do this again and again. And again.
Watch what happens to obstacles in the path of a glacier. Place various sizes of rocks on the cookie sheet as obstacles for your glacier. Depending on the size of the rock, it may be picked up and carried downhill or flowed around.
Create shapes or structures from the goo. What happens?
When you’re done playing, place your goo in a zipper-lock bag for safekeeping.
#3: How Does it Work?
Glacier Goo feels and acts WEIRD. Your family will wonder how it works. You can share this simple explanation with your kids:
The mixture of white glue with Borax and water produces a putty-like material called a polymer. In simplest terms, a polymer is a long chain of molecules.
You can use the example of cooking spaghetti to better understand how this polymer behaves.
When a pile of freshly cooked spaghetti comes out of the hot water and into the bowl, the strands flow like a liquid from the pan to the bowl. This is because the spaghetti strands are slippery and slide over one another.
After a while, the water drains off of the pasta and the strands start to stick together. The spaghetti takes on a rubbery texture. Wait a little while longer for all of the water to evaporate and the pile of spaghetti turns into a solid mass.
Many natural and synthetic polymers behave in a similar manner. Polymers are made out of long strands of molecules like spaghetti.
Borax is the compound that is responsible for hooking the glue’s molecules together to form the putty-like material.
Some Final Thoughts…
The unique, slow-moving properties of the goo simulate the movement of a glacier. At a molecular level, ice is comprised of stacked layers of molecules with relatively weak bonds between the layers.
This is similar to the makeup of our goo molecules. Ice can stretch or break depending on the amount of pressure applied. If there is a lot of pressure or a high strain rate, ice will crack or break, causing crevasses in glaciers. When the pressure is lower or the strain rate is small and constant, ice can bend or stretch.
The steady pressure from the bulk of the ice mass and the pull of gravity cause the glacier to flow slowly (so slowly you can’t see it) downhill, bending like a river of ice.
What do you think? We want to see your Glacier Goo landscapes. What types of land obstacles can you create? What did your family learn about glaciers? Please leave a comment or photo in the box below.
Steve Spangler is an author, teacher, toy designer, Emmy award-winning television personality and creator of a huge soda mess. His appearances on television demonstrate his passion for making learning fun. Other posts by Steve Spangler »