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There is a whole branch of chemistry and materials science that deals with adhesives. If you had a degree in chemistry you could specialize in that field. What we take for granted on one side of tape is actually pretty rich with science information. A trip to the tape section of any store will reveal a pretty wide variety of products. We are most familiar with the transparent tape we use in the office and perhaps masking tape. However, each of those tapes has a specific standard for bonding with other materials based on the use of the material. The same is true with duct tape and various types of fabric tapes. There are even tapes where the adhesive is only activated by heat.
Now you may ask where this is going. Well, it speaks to a rich set of explorations that involve nothing more than tape or glue. We know that the quality control folks in the tape or glue factory have to test the product to see that it works as it is supposed to work. Many companies also have folks working on ways to make the product work better. That product testing side of science is a great field for kids to explore and adhesives are a thrifty way to do just that.
One web site lists a variety of science fair projects with adhesives. These give not only great starting ideas but some student work samples that would help frame a unit assessment.
There is actually a site dedicated to adhesives and how they work. The language is mostly high school level but the background is valuable to the development of any unit on the topic.
At the above site you should check out the library link. There you will find articles on futuristic adhesives, research, and super glues. The newsletter will give you access to articles on mending torn paintings to using glue to build buildings. These are fascinating reads and as much as they bring to the unit development they are great for short reading assignments for groups of students.
The classic lesson on adhesives is one that has students investigate the sticking power of tape. Students design a method to test the tape and report on the results to a larger audience. There is a good example of one of these units from AGPA.
Some diverse industries use adhesives in interesting ways. You may want to have a dentist or dental assistant visit your class to explain what kinds of adhesives they use to keep fillings and crowns in place. A woodworker can give a great lesson on adhesives that also gets into the structure of different woods. My personal favorite is the welding teacher. This person usually knows a lot about how to join metal to metal and can bring some good examples of how this is done. My kids are fascinated by the heat, flame and helmet like visor.
Using the right adhesive is also a fascinating study. One site has an applet that allows you to put in what you are gluing to what and the program gives you the recommended adhesive. “Whyzz” site has a good explanation of how glues work and a recipe for making your own glue.
The “About.com” site has a great step by step for milk glue that take only about 15 minutes, water, vinegar, baking soda and dry milk. The chemistry process is also explained on this site.
So, for those of you, like me, who could not resist tasting the glue that the other kids in kindergarten seemed to enjoy so much, this is a chance to come full circle. Glue is easy to make, tape is easy to find and the science in the investigations of adhesives is rich.