• Chemistry in the Toy Store



Chemistry in the Toy Store

My experiments with common materials have been ongoing since I got my first chemistry set at the age of 10. Although I investigated the science of a number of toys for many years, my fascination with the chemistry of toys started in 1978 with one of my first formal presentations using toys in 1979. Chemistry in the Toy Store originated in 1982 at the BCCE held at the University of Oklahoma in Stillwater, OK. Since then, it has been presented over 200 times around the world and the write-up has been updated 6 times. Currently, Chemistry in the Toy Store is being updated and expanded into a book. The section on soap bubbles has been expanded and is now a separate book titled The Chemistry (and a Little Physics) of Soap Bubbles on this web site. (See menu on left.)

Chemistry in the Toy Store was the first presentation to address and explain the chemistry of toys and to provide chemistry experiments to investigate or to prepare a number of toy-type materials in the lab or at home. If you ever made Slime, polyurethane foam, or disappearing ink in the classroom, then you probably followed a recipe that was originated by this author.

For convenience, the 6th edition of my Chemistry in the Toy Store notes has been split into three parts. These are PDF files and require Acrobat Reader

Chemistry in the Toy Store Part I: The Science of Soap Bubbles

Chemistry in the Toy Store Part II: Ballons, Rubber, Shrinky Dinks, Silly Putty, Slime and Related Polymeric Materials

Chemistry in the Toy Store Part III Lightsticks, Magic Sand, Magic Rocks, Liquid Crystals, Dissolving Paper, Disappearing Ink, Flammables, and Big Bang Cannons

Published versions of Chemistry in the Toy Store and related material:

Chemistry in the Toy Store appeared as a feature article in the 1988 Yearbook of Science and the Future of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Katz, David A., Balls and Balloons and Things That Go `Bang', Chemecology, 17, No.10, 2, December 1988-January 1989.

Katz, David A., Chemistry in the Toy Store, in the 1996 AustralianChemistry Resource Book, published by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

Katz, David A., A Bag of Slime, Journal of Chemical Education, 71, 891, October 1994.

Katz, David A., Katz in the Toyshop, a regular column appearing in Education in Chemistry, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, 1990-1993.

Katz, David A., The Chemistry of Soap Bubbles, SPECTRUM, 1990.

Katz, David A., Chemistry in the Toy Store, SPECTRUM, 1990.

Katz, David A., Bubbles: A Popping Good Teaching Tool, The Mast Rapper the Official ­Publication of the Maryland Association of Science Teachers, 2, 20, ­September 1986.

Katz, David A., Chemistry in the Toy Store, in the 1986 Australian Chemistry Resource Book, Edited by C. L. Fogliani.

Katz, David A., Making Slime in Idea Bank Collation, A Handbook for Science Teachers, Edited by Irwin Talesnick, Science Supplies and Services Co. Ltd., ­Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 1984.

Katz, David A., Making Slime in "Idea Bank", The Science Teacher, 49, No. 6, 55 (September 1982).

The Encyclopedia Britannica article can be accessed in four parts:

Part I: Soap Bubbles and Balloons

Part II: Polymers: Craft Cast, Silly Putty, Slime, Super Ball, Wall Walkers, and Magic Eggs (Grow Creatures)

Part III: Lightsticks, Thingmaker, Magic Sand, Magic Rocks, Scratch and Sniff Stickers

Part IV: Disappearing Ink, Thermobile, Flashes and Fire, Cap Guns, and Big Bang Cannons

Toy Chemistry

Balls and Balloons and Things That Go 'Bang' is an article from Chemecology magazine, Vol. 17, No. 10, December 1988-January 1989 about the impact of using toys to teach chemistry.

Recipes for Chemical Toys

Want to make some of these toys using mostly household materials? A set of recipes is available below. For more complete recipes and investigations, go to the individual files that follow. Please observe all safety precautions.

Chemistry in the Toy Store Recipes A compilation of recipes for toy items using household products.

Preparations and extended investigations with toys based on materials developed from 1982 to the present:


Rubber: Make a Rubber Ball

Chromatography: The following are two forms of chromatography using apparatus or materials available in toy stores.

Chalk Chromatography

Spin Chromatography

The Chemistry of Color Changing Pens and An Investigation of Color Changing Pens

Disappearing Ink (Includes information on Hollywood Hair Barbie)

Flash Screen A phosphorescent screen to freeze your shadow or write on it with light.

Hopper Popper Make a popper to demonstrate how a ball bounces

Shrinky Dinks

Silly Putty Includes a recipe for making Elmer's Glue Putty

Slime: No, I am not the originator of Slime, but if you ever made Slime, it is probably a variation of my recipe. Slime was a product of Mattel Toy Corporation. Based on a 1978 article about Slime, by Jeral Walker in Scientific American, I contacted Mattel and was able to find out the composition of Slime. The first recipe for making Slime in the laboratory or at home was published in 1979. My friend and colleague, David Weil, introduced the procedure for making Slime from polyvinyl alcohol in 1981. I made Elmers Glue Putty (now called Elmers Glue Slime) in the 1970s and later used a variation of this to make what I called Elmers Glue Gak. (See the recipe for GAK in this page.)

Note: Elmers Glue Putty was originally made using Sta-Flo Liquid Starch, however, that recipe did not work after the company changed their formulation in the mid-to-late 1970s. When I learned about using Borax to cross-link Slime, I found out that Sta-Flo had removed the Borax from their starch. They later added the Borax back to the starch.

Slime This contains a recipe for guar gum Slime using the same material used in the original Slime.

Polyvinyl alcohol Slime

Glow Slime Make Glow-in-the-dark Slime

The following is a novel preparation for polyvinyl alcohol slime.

A Bag of Slime

GAK Also caled Elmers Glue Slime. This procedure uses white Elmers Glue with the addition of talcum powder to increase streching properties of the Slime-type material. (Includes a procedure for making glow-in-the-dark Gak)

Polyurethane Foam: I am not the originator of polyurethane foam. I did provide a recipe for its use and popularized it for chemical demonstations and for school and teacher workshops. Originally, the materials of polyurethane foam were toxic and very irritating to the eyes and respiatory system, making it useful only for demonstrations in a well ventilated area. About 1980, I found a commerical product called Craft Cast that used low odor and low toxicity ingredients for hobby applications, developed recipes for its use, and started using it for hands-on activities in workshops. It is still recommended to work with this material in well ventilated areas.

Ooze Ball

Magic Tree Experiment with a commercial Magic Tree

Magic Tree, An Explanation The chemistry of the Magic Tree

Grow Your Own Crystal Tree or Crystal Garden

Magic Sand

Kinetic Sand

Play Dough (Monster Flesh)

Smart/Stupid Balls

Superabsorbant Material is used both as a toy and as a consumer material to absorb water. The following two investigations utilize these materials.

Instant Glop

Magic Egg