Experiments with KVRR Meteorologist Scott Sincoff: Make-Your-Own Worms

Fun and Easy Science Experiments

This week, Meteorologist Scott Sincoff worked with Concordia Science Academy‘s Dr. Graeme Wyllie to create Make-Your-Own Worms.

The experiment makes gross worms from a combination of Gaviscon and calcium chloride. Gaviscon is an indigestion medicine and to make it thicker, it contains a chemical called sodium alginate which comes from seaweed and which is also used to make things thicker or form droplets in cooking. Calcium chloride is one of the different chemicals used in certain brands of snow melt so if you want to try this at home, look at the ingredients and find the brand that contains pure calcium chloride.

Our first step is to prepare a solution to make the worms in and so take a cup of water and spoon in maybe a teaspoon or two of the calcium chloride. Stir the mixture with the spoon till all the solid dissolves. We’re going to use our senses to feel what’s going on inside the cup, you may notice it feels really warm, especially when you put your hand on the bottom of the cup. It’s because dissolving calcium chloride  is described as exothermic which means that it produces heat. It is this heat in part that helps it melt snow and ice but in this case, it’s the calcium ions in solution that we need and not the heat.

Pour some Gaviscon into a small cup and fill up a syringe or an eye dropper with the Gaviscon and squeeze one droplet out of the syringe or eye dropper into the solution for a test run You should see a little sphere or globule form and you can see if you can pick up with the spoon. It’s more solid as the calcium ions cause the long stringy molecules of the alginate to come together making a thicker material. This is is related to how the make the little balls filled with juice you sometimes find at places like the frozen yogurt stores where the outer sphere is made from alginate.

Now, what we are going to do now is squeeze a whole syringe in at once. Squeeze the contents of the syringe around the cup into one continuous strand to make a really long worm. With that we can actually pull out some worms created by the Gaviscon and the calcium carbonate.

All of the materials from the experiment can be disposed of down the sink but be careful not to pour pure Gaviscon and Calcium Chloride together without running some water so you don’t make a big mass in the drain.

Further Experiments:

  • Try mixing food color into the Gaviscon to make colored worms.
  • To make even stronger worms, use sodium alginate powder dissolved in water instead of the Gaviscon (we use 2g of sodium alginate to 100 mL of water and stir till all dissolved before mixing with the calcium chloride.
    • Why not measure how long you can make and fish out a single worm without it breaking.

Did you know:

Alginates are a vital ingredient in many of the modern bioplastics being made today and these sustainable materials will hopefully be used more and more in the real world in the future (http://news.algaeworld.org/2017/07/uwi-research-team-developing-new-bioplastic-from-seaweed/). Dr. Graeme’s chemistry teaching lab at Concordia is also using alginate in their experiments and research projects this semester.

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