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In this hands-on activity, learners use heat to shrink samples of polystyrene plastic (#6 recycle code). Learners compare the size and shape of the plastic pieces before and after shrinking. They also compare the differences in the way the two plastics items, a tray and a cup, shrink. Due to the way they are manufactured, the cup only shrinks in one dimension, while the tray shrinks in two dimensions - find out why! Activity requires adult supervision if used with younger learners, due to use of hot plate. A great introduction to industrial chemistry.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 6 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • hot plate
  • small nonstick frying pan
  • small bowl (cereal bowl size)
  • spatula
  • 1000-mL plastic beaker
  • (2) 250-mL plastic beakers
  • (optional) dry erase board and marker can replace two following materials
  • sharpened pencils
  • (100) scrap paper, cut 2
  • (20) plastic cups with #6 recycle code
  • (20) plastic take-out trays with #6 recycle code
  • clock


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Industrial Engineering
      • Manufacturing Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Bonding
    • States of Matter
      • Solids


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 9355628