Exploring Materials: Hydrogel

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In this activity, learners discover how a super-absorbing material can be used to move a straw. Learners discover that hydrogels can absorb a lot of water, like the one used in this activity, which can absorb 1,000 times its weight in water! Use this activity to discuss how hydrogels can be used at the nanoscale to manipulate tiny structures. Activities with Jell-O® are a great complement to this activity, since Jell-O® is also a hydrogel!

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - adult

Resource Type:

English, Spanish

Materials List (per group of students)

  • Sodium polyacrylate powder
  • Plastic spoon
  • Plastic water bottle
  • Small paper cups (3 oz. bathroom size)
  • Stir sticks or toothpicks


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering
      • Chemical Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Bonding
      • Chemical Reactions
      • Solutions
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation, 0532536
  • National Science Foundation, 0940143