Slime science: Why slime is like leftover pasta

Is slime a fading fad? Maybe. (Those fidget spinners look a lot less messy.) But the one thing slime has over spinners and bottle flipping, and whatever other fad you can thing of is its potential for a lesson in applied science.

So what is the science of slime, you ask?

Read how the slime thing is playing out in Palm Beach County here. 

Let’s just assume we all know that things in this world are made of teeny, tiny molecules. Glue is what’s called a linear polymer, it’s along molecule made up from a chain of smaller repeating units called monomers.

The folks at Museum of Science, Boston, can take it from here:

(Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

“A linear polymer is like fresh cooked pasta: each noodle is separate from the other and when you go to dump it out of the container, the pasta does not hold the container shape.”

Mix the pasta, or in this case, the glue, with Borax, a mineral made of monomers of sodium borate, and they interact.  More precisely, because you use water when you combine them, you get hydrogen bonding and the long chains turn into a matrix.

“A matrix polymer is like left over pasta: when you take it out of the container it has the shape of the container, with the noodles all stuck to each other.”

Slime even has a place in Florida’s educational standards. And not just in chemistry.

Hagfish (Getty Images)

Slime is a secret weapon for a lot of animals, including the hagfish, said Alexandra Laing, who works in Palm Beach County’s curriculum department.  The hagfish can secrete stringy proteins that turn into slime when they come in contact with seawater. Word is they can mix up buckets of the stuff in mere minutes.

“But it also relates to humans,” Laing said. “We make six cups of slime a day that coats the insides of our digestive system. It’s in the lining of our nose and mouth.”

Still, it seems plenty of parents are over it.

As educational as it may be, one Michael’s clerk confided, “I have a lot of parents who can’t wait for this fad to end.”

Count mom, Latoya Mills, among them.

“It clogged my sink and got into the finish of my sofa. I can’t keep Ziplock bags in stock. All my containers are gone. I have no containers. None,” Mills said.

Who knows what’s happening in the landfill with the discarded batches.

Maybe that’s the next science lesson.

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