Spaghetti and Rainbows
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Add a sprinkle of science to the popular rainbow spaghetti activity; the uncooked spaghetti is great for building structures and, after cooking, it can be used to talk about polymers.
Structures: spaghetti/linguine pasta, marshmallows
Rainbow pasta: spaghetti/linguine pasta, food colour, butter/oil, salt, pepper
1. Make some scientific structures
Connect lengths of uncooked spaghetti by pushing them into the marshmallows
Start by building a square base, then a cube and then try a pyramid.
Which feels more sturdy? Who can build the tallest tower?
There is a brilliant activity worksheet from the Science Museum that has lots of ideas and pictures
2. Cook the rainbow pasta
Cook the pasta according to the instructions, drain and rinse under cold water
Set up small pots or bowls (lidded plastic containers are ideal)
Add a glug of food colouring to each one, then divide the pasta between them
Cover, shake and leave for a few minute
Make sure you have clean hands if you are planning to eat the rainbow pasta
3. Serve your supper
To eat your rainbow spaghetti...
Reheat in the microwave
Add oil, butter, salt and pepper to taste
Combine with baked beans and top with cheese for a more substantial meal
What’s going on? The science in a sentence… In the structures activity, you can see that a wide base and lots of triangles make for a sturdier tower; we love this Science Channel video explaination with triangles (and donuts).
If you don’t have any marshmallows, you can use gummy sweets or sticky tape.
See who can build the tallest tower with a limited amount of material (engineers are always thinking about how to optimise resources). Next time you go for a walk, see how many structures you can see that use triangular shapes and check out this great video from Design Squad.
Experiment with the food colouring, mixing different colours to make the whole rainbow. If you only have a few colours, try worms, slime, traffic light pasta or unicorn tails using red and blue to make pinks and purples.
Polymers in a Paragraph
Cooked spaghetti can also be used to illustrate the difference between amorphous and crystalline structures.
Polymers are made by chemical reactions that join many small molecules into a long chains. Plastics such as polythene and nylon are polymers. Polymers can be strong, durable and flexible and are important materials. Polymer chains can be arranged in different ways. Polythene has an amorphous (messy) structure like the cooked spaghetti. PET, a type of plastic often used to make bottles, has a semi-crystalline structure where some of the chains are lined up. You can learn more about this difference and the resulting material properties here.