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Samantha Boyd

Pennies and Surface Tension Experiments


Relevant SOLs:
Standard 6.5 b The student will investigate and understand the unique properties and
characteristics of water and its roles in the natural and human-made environment. Key concepts
include:
b) the properties of water in all three phases.
Materials:
Water Drop Record Sheet
Pennies
Eyedroppers
Cups of water
Petri dish
Pepper
Dish soap
Engage: Bugs & Pepper
Ask students if they have ever seen a mosquito or other small bug sitting on the surface of the
water. Show them a petri dish with water. Sprinkle some pepper (representing small bugs) on
the surface and discuss the reason it stays on the surface. Explain that the surface of water acts
like skin because it holds together due to the water molecules being attracted to each other.
Add a drop of dish soap and ask students to make observations and explain what happened.
(The pepper will go to the sides of the container because the soap disrupts the hydrogen bonds
that cause the surface tension.)
Explore: Penny drops
1. Give each pair of students six pennies, two eyedroppers, a cup of water, and a bit of dish
soap mixed in with a separate cup of water. The water eyedropper and the dish soap and
water mixture eyedropper should be kept separate. Be sure each penny used has the
heads side up for consistency.
2. Hand out the water drop record sheets.
3. Have the students make predictions about how many drops of water they believe will fit
on the penny without it overflowing.
4. Prompt students to record the number of drops of water the penny held before any
amount of water overflowed. Make sure they know to hold the dropper at least a
centimeter above the surface.
5. They should complete the same experiment two more times using two more unused
pennies.
6. Have the students make predictions about how many drops of water they believe will fit
on the penny without it overflowing.
7. Prompt students to record the number of drops of the water and dish soap mixture the
penny held before any amount overflowed. Make sure they know to hold the dropper at
least a centimeter above the surface.
8. They should complete the same experiment two more times using two more unused
pennies.
Explain: Ask students the following questions
1. How many drops did it take before the pennies overflowed with just water?
2. How many drops did it take before the pennies overflowed with water and dish soap?

3. Why would the dish soap cause the water to overflow so easily?
4. What caused the water drops to finally spill over the side of the pennies?
Science behind the experiment: Surface tension causes drops of water to stick together, or create
cohesion, on the penny instead of rolling off. The molecules of water on the surface of the penny
are attracted to each other, so they tend to combine into one large dome-shaped drop rather
than overflowing. Since soap reduces cohesion of water, surface tension decreases and water
molecules break apart, so the mixture overflows sooner than it would with only water.
Expansion: Extra Experiments
Use the same procedures to do the experiment with vegetable oil. Make a hypothesis
stating whether or not you think the oil will have surface tension. Also state how many
drops you predict the penny will hold of the oil before it overflows.
Use the same procedures to do the experiment with rubbing alcohol. Make a hypothesis
stating whether or not you think the rubbing alcohol will have surface tension. Also state
how many drops you predict the penny will hold of the rubbing alcohol before it
overflows.
Evaluate: Interactive Journal
Have students reflect on the activity, summarizing what they did and what they learned about
the properties of water and soapy water. Also, have students record their answers to the
explain questions in their interactive journal. Their record form should also be placed in their
interactive journal for them to refer to when answering the explain questions. Finally, students
should define surface tension and give two examples of surface tension in everyday life in their
interactive journal (dont touch the tent when youre camping, bugs walking on water, etc.).
Water Drop Record Form
Prediction
Penny 1 Water
Penny 2 Water

Penny 3 Water
Penny 4 Water & Soap
Penny 5 Water & Soap
Penny 6 Water & Soap

Actual Result