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The Floating Paper Clip Experiment

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Activity Overview

Alter the surface tension of water, so that you can make a metal paperclip float. This easily performed science experiment has astounding results that will have children of all ages actively engaged in exploring the science of surface tension. This wonderful experiment defies your predictions and is definitely worth taking a few minutes to explore.

After you perform the second part of this this experiment when the paperclip floats, take a close look at the surface of the water around the paperclip. You can see how the surface tension has altered. It looks a bit like a skin has formed on top of the water but actually the water has been pushed down beneath the paper clip and has raised slightly inside and around the paper clip keeping it afloat.

Materials Needed

  • A glass
  • A piece of paper towel or toilet paper
  • Chopstick or skewer
  • A paper clip

How to Do It

  1. Fill up a glass of water.
  2. Lay a paperclip on the surface of the water and observe what happens. It will sink to the bottom immediately.
  3. Now, remove the paperclip and dry it off.
  4. Tear off a piece of paper towel or toilet paper. It should be a little bigger than the size of your paper clip but small enough to fit inside the glass.

  5. Carefully lay the piece of paper towel across the surface of the water.

  6. When the paper is completely saturated, carefully lay the paper clip flat on top of the wet paper towel.
  7. Gently dip the tip of the chopstick or skewer into the glass and touch the paper towel only.
  8. Carefully, ease the paper towel to the bottom of the glass without touching the paper clip.
  9. Observe and look very closely at the surface of the water.

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