A Slime of Patterns: the Hidden Order of Gooey, Glubber

Gooey Slime may seem the opposite of pattern. Yet there is an underlying pattern called a polymer. Moreover, the polymers are crosslinked, forming yet a larger pattern.

Slime is in the ocean, in our bodies, in our yards. Our bodies make some kinds. Kids make a similar kind out of glue. Slime seems the opposite of pattern, but up close there is a fascinating pattern that makes slime what it is: slimy. Let’s examine the kind of slime kids make out of glue, such as Elmer’s glue. 

The glue contains molecules from which we can make polymers. A polymer, in turn, is a pattern made up of repeating molecules, or “monomers” that are connected by relatively strong covalent chemical bonds. 

In slime, the repeating unit is poly vinyl alcohol (PVOH). Modeling this with Lego makes features of this PVOH more tangible.

The red Lego blocks show Oxygen atoms, the brown blocks show the Carbon atoms. The small white block shows the Hydrogen atoms.