Poly-sorb Diaper Dissection
What does an astronaut do if they are in the middle of a space walk when they need to
go to the bathroom? D'oh! Diapers, that's right, they wear diapers with a super
absorbent chemical called poly-sorb. Poly-sorb or Sodium Polyacrylate is an amazing
polymer that absorbs 100-500 times its weight in water.
Space is not the only place that poly-sorb is being used. You can find poly-sorb in disposable
diapers. It is spread throughout the cotton lining.
Polymer means Wood, starch, rubber, cotton, wool, spiders’ webs, silk, hair, leather,
many parts. muscles, and fingernails are all examples of polymers that are made in
Polymers are nature.
very important Man-made polymers, or synthetic polymers, are materials such as polyester,
substances. polystyrene, polyethylene, teflon, and nylon. A zip lock plastic bag, fibers in
clothing, carpets, and fishing line are all examples
In this lab you will investigate how this chemical is used in everyday
disposable diapers by making observations. You will dissect a diaper
and test the chemical found in it.
Materials: Safety: Be careful about the dust created when shaking the
disposable diapers salt dissected diaper parts in the containers. Don't eat or taste the
(NaCl), distilled water, poly-sorb. Be very careful about inhaling the cotton fibers in the
plastic bag, scissors baby diapers. They can be very irritating to the lungs/eyes.
1. Take apart the plastic lining to get to the absorbent cotton layer. Carefully remove
that layer and look for crystals below that layer and in the corners of the diaper.
shake out the diaper shell into the plastic bag.
2. Some diapers have a cotton layer that can be split down the middle. See if you can
peal apart the cotton layer down the middle. That's where much of the polysorb crystals are.
Pull apart the cotton layer so it is in small pieces. Put the small pieces of cotton into the plastic
3. Shake the bag vigorously. The shaking separates the poly-sorb crystals from the cotton. Tip
the bag so the crystals and cotton fall to one corner. Pick out the pieces of cotton so all that is
left are the crystals. Throw away the cotton and the rest of the diaper.
1. In a small beaker, put a pinch of the crystals and slowly add water to the crystals and
observe carefully what happens. What happened to all the water you added? Describe what
2. This time put some water into a cup and sprinkle some poly-sorb powder over the
top of the water. Describe what happens below.
3. Was there any difference in what happened if you sprinkle the polyacrylate on top
of water or pour water on top of the polysorb?
4. The water-poly-sorb reaction creates a gel or slush-like material. In the space
provided draw a sketch of what the gel looked like.
5. Take a clump (small spoonful) of the gel and but it in a cup of water. Does it float on top or
sink to the bottom? Describe what happened.
6. Add table salt to the gel and describe what happens. Stir the table salt into the gel an
describe what happens:
7. What new way can you think of to use poly-sorb in real life. Explain how polysorb
could be used. You can’t use the diaper example.
8. Think of an experiment you would like to try using the diapers or the poly-sorb
crystals. Describe in detail what you would try.