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Akron Global Polymer Academy Lesson Plans

Polymer Shrinking Madness! Exploring Shrinking Properties and Chemical Makeup through Mass Spectrometry

Grades: 10-12
Author: Michael Owen
Source: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC- 1542358. 1. Wayne Goates- Goddard Middle School, Goddard KS- published lesson on determination of percentage of polystyrene shrinkage. 2. Interpretation of mass spectrums and production of polystyrene and polyethylene samples of certain area with cost analysis is original.


Students will then conduct a lab activity to produce a polystyrene and polyethylene sample of a certain area after shrinking the sample in a drying oven. Cost analysis of the two shapes will be calculated. Students will also discuss mass spectrometry as an analytical technique and interpret different polymer mass spectrums.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?




  1. Students will be presented with power point notes and online video clips explaining the concept of mass spectrometry and how it relates to the properties of polymers.
  2. Students will go on a field trip to the Knight Chemical Laboratory/University of Akron Mass Spectrometry lab (mass spectrum of polystyrene is attached if this is impractical).

Assessment: formative assessments will be made during the notes and field trip with Q and A sessions.


  1. Students will work in pairs in the lab to create a polystyrene and polyethylene sample of a certain area after they have shrunk in a drying oven. Students will have to test several pieces to determine the percentage of shrinkage before shrinking their final sample.
  2. Students will be able to observe the analysis of a polymer using the mass spectrometer OR students will interpret the polystyrene mass spectrum after reviewing a PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane) mass spectrum in class.

Assessment: formative assessments will be made in the lab while the students are experimenting with their polystyrene and polyethylene samples.


  1. The concept of polymers being composed of repeating monomer units will be reinforced.
  2. Analysis of a mass spectrum will be explained with a spectrum of PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane) and students will be taught how to determine the molar mass of the repeating monomer unit.

Assessment: formative assessments will be taken as the lab groups analyze the mass spectrum of polystyrene.


Throughout the class, mass spectrometry will be referred to as an analytical technique that can determine what elements and bonds are in a certain compound. Mass spectrometry as a technique to determine isotopic abundance and average atomic mass will also be explained and assessed on a traditional end of course exam. Summative assessments will also be made through student lab reports (rubric included on student activity page).


Best Teaching Practices

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

*Essential knowledge 1.D.2: (from AP Chemistry course description at

b. Data from mass spectrometry can also demonstrate direct evidence of different isotopes from the same element.

*HS-ETS1-3 Engineering Design (From Next Generation Science Standards)

Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Ohio Standards:

*From Ohio's New Learning Standards: Science-Chemistry pg 298-299

Molecules, ionic lattices and network covalent structures have different, yet predictable, properties that depend on the identity of the elements and the types of bonds formed.

Content Knowledge

Students will need to have knowledge of basic carbon chemistry and its ability to form long repeating chains. Students will also need access to the internet to confirm the formula of the polystyrene and polyethylene repeating units in order to select the correct mass spectrum. Internet access will also be necessary to do basic research into structure and uses of PDMS, polystyrene, and polyethylene.


Goggles should be worn at all times in the mass spectrometry lab when analyzing the polystyrene standard if a field trip is practical. Students should use heat resistant gloves and forceps to remove their polystyrene and polyethylene samples from the drying oven after shrinking.


Students will know that mass spectrometry is an analytical technique that can identify the types of elements and bonds in a sample. This knowledge can be applied commercially to prevent trademark infringement, or in areas of forensics. Students will also be able to relate their sample production of a certain area to manufacturing processes where definite amounts of end products are desired.


Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions:

Pacing/Suggested Time:

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