Sand Gallery Update: Investigating the Magic of Kinetic Sand and More

In the last issue of Nanographia, the article Exploring the World’s Beaches One Sand Grain at a Time introduced readers to interesting ways educators are using sand in their classrooms. This post is an update on what teachers have been doing with some of the sands requested from the Microscopy Society of America’s (MSA) Sandbox resource in the past few months. As teachers request sand samples from the MSA Sandbox, we have begun photographing those sands using a stereomicroscope and posting them on our Modern Microscopy website. In this post we have also included a fun sample in the mix: Kinetic Sand®.

So, let’s see what the teachers have been up to.

From Round Rock, Texas:

This summer, a fourth grade teacher in Round Rock, Texas participated in a lab experience developing curriculum for fourth graders. In this curriculum, students will explore scientific tools and learn about using, and potentially constructing, a basic optical microscope. They will be directly tying this lesson to weathering through wind, water and ice. The sand samples requested for this project are:

  • Half Moon Bay Beach at Magellan Ave., CA
  • Coronado, CA
  • Amalfi, Italy
  • Horseshoe Canyon Barrier Creek, UT (Note: This sand was also requested from a teacher in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so we have included it twice in this post. Many times teachers will key in on the color of the sand or its location.)
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • Kruger National Park, collection site #2, South Africa

Ultimately, the goal is to implement this lesson across the entire fourth grade, rather than just her classroom. She plans to submit the curriculum for publication through  within the next year or so. Should it be accepted, the MSA Sandbox will be acknowledged, which she described as an amazing resource. We’ll look forward to any updates from Round Rock.

Note: This teacher originally requested sand from Ocho Rios, Jamaica, but our supply for that sample has run out. We replaced that request with sand from Montego Bay, Jamaica. If anyone reading this article happens to be vacationing at Ocho Rios beach in the near future, we would appreciate a small bag of sand to replenish our inventory.

From the Dallas/Fort Worth Area:

This request for MSA Sandbox sand will be used at the elementary school level. Children will examine sand samples and then, using geography, study the origin of the sand, and where the different colors that make up the sand come from. The lesson will end by letting the children use the sand to create a craft to keep. We see a sand study card project in their future.

Requested samples:

  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Zombies Beach, Oahu, HI
  • Savoogna, St. Lawrence Island, AK
  • Horseshoe Canyon Barrier Creek, UT

From Edmonton, Alberta, Canada:

The TELUS World of Science is putting together a microscopy exhibit for their science center. They will primarily be using dissecting microscopes and a few compound microscopes in their natural history themed gallery to display sands from around the world. They have requested the following MSA Sandbox sands to get them started:

  • Stansbury Island collection site #2, UT
  • Vanuatu Islands
  • Volcanoes National Park, HI
  • Hueston Woods State Park, OH
  • Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico
  • Oranjestad, Aruba

Exploring Kinetic Sand

Walking down any toy isle, you will most likely find an area dedicated to Kinetic Sand. Like the brand Kleenex, Kinetic Sand is considered an eponym. People generally refer to similar products or DIY versions as kinetic sand, or sometimes it’s referred to as textured sand. This product comes in a wide variety of colors. The company’s website claims that the product is made up of 98% sand and 2% magic. That naturally intrigued us, so we investigated the sand and the magic part a bit further.

Kinetic Sand
Kinetic Sand.

If you visit the Kinetic Sand website, they don’t mention how they get the sand to stick together, which gives it a similar feel and texture to wet sand. Searching a bit more online, you’ll find that this particular product uses polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to coat the grains of sand to impart its hard-to-put-down quality. PDMS is also used in the iconic product Silly Putty, giving the product its characteristic viscoelastic properties. We have included some low magnification light micrograph images of the natural-colored version of Kinetic Sand, along with some FTIR spectra confirming the presence of PDMS.

Photomicrograph of Kinetic Sand
Kinetic Sand, 25X.

Looking at Kinetic Sand under a stereomicroscope, you can see the sand grains almost magically connecting with each other—with colorless material coating the sand and holding everything together. When pulled apart, the grains slowly separate with the fine, colorless strands of this material stretching between. The colorless strand will eventually break into sections, with each piece snapping back to its nearest sand grain. We have captured this in the video below.

These fine strands are really difficult to sample directly, and after a few frustrating attempts, a sample of the Kinetic Sand was placed on a glass microscope slide and a small drop of hexane was added to rinse off some of the material coating the individual sand grains, otherwise known as the “bit of magic.”

Kinetic Sand, 37.5X magnification
Kinetic Sand, 37.5X.

After the hexane evaporated, some of the colorless material remained on the slide as residue. The residue material was collected and analyzed by FTIR. The spectrum below was a good match with some of our library reference spectra such as thermoplastic siloxane elastomer, and PDMS. The spectrum of silicone oil is a good reference for showing how silicone is used in many different products.

FTIR spectrum of Kinetic Sand
FTIR spectrum of Kinetic Sand.
FTIR spectrum of thermoplastic siloxane elastomer.
FTIR library spectrum of thermoplastic siloxane elastomer.
FTIR  spectrum of silicone oil
FTIR library spectrum of silicone oil.
FTIR spectrum of polydimethylsiloxane
FTIR library spectrum of polydimethylsiloxane.

Thanks for reading our sand update! If you have any questions please contact us via the comments box below.


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