Watch a styrofoam cup collapse before your eyes! You can find acetone at a hardware store, or buy it in a small quantity from us. It is very flammable, so keep it away from all flames and use it in a well-ventilated area. This project requires adult supervision.
>> Watch our video demonstration below, then try it yourself!
Styrofoam is mostly air, trapped in place by the polymer polystyrene. A polymer is a very large molecule formed by repeated patterns of chemical units strung together in long chains. The acetone dissolves the long polymer strands in the styrofoam, allowing all the trapped air to escape. Without air, the cup is just a blob of polystyrene on the bottom of the dish! You can pour off the excess acetone and let the blob of polystyrene dry into a hard lump of plastic.
Note: This project makes a great lab safety demonstration: A teacher can pour water into a styrofoam cup and drink it, then pour acetone (which looks like water!) into the cup. Hold the second cup over a bowl or beaker to contain the mess. Use this to reinforce that one should never eat and drink in a lab. What looks like water may be something quite different!