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IncrediBoll Experiments: Part 1

Posted February 11, 2010 3:00 PM by Mello

Looking into Crystal Bolls

When a coworker (Frankd20 of Workbench Creations fame) came around to our cubicle area with a freebie packet of what looked like tiny multicolored spheres of plastic, we were a little unsure of how to react. But after reading the directions on the "Seven Color Crystal Bolls," an experiment was born!

"1. add water 400G on the product. about 4 hours it will grow up.
2. one clear beauty satiety face will grow up.
3. when the flower want to oxygen and nutrition, I will help you too much."

Apparently, the Crystal Bolls would absorb water and grow, and were used in vases to keep plants moist.

Several questions immediately ensued:

  • How large would the "Bolls" grow?
  • How much water would they soak up?
  • How long would it take until they stopped growing?
  • What were they made of?

Experiment #1: A Bowlful of Bolls

The first experiment entailed filling a plastic container with 400G of water, and unceremoniously pouring in the entire packet of Bolls. We periodically checked the progress over the next several hours, snapped a few photos, and were entertained by the unusual shapes the Bolls took on as they expanded (one of us likened the initial growth to some sort of cell dividing).

By the next morning, the Bolls had absorbed the full 400G of water (I was moderately disappointed that they did not expand into giant blobs that would take over my desk and cubicle area). Since there was still sufficient amount of room in the jar, we decided to see if they would grow more if we gave them additional water to soak up.

After a couple of days of observation, we determined the Boll growth had pretty much ceased at about 18-23mm diameter; not bad considering the original size was about 3mm.

Under Pressure?

We conducted a couple of side-experiments with the already-expanded Bolls, including submergence in hot and cold water, and isolation in a separate, deeper container of water (we were concerned that some of the Bolls on the bottom of the container wouldn't grow as large because they were somewhat squashed by the ones on top). Strangely enough, the one we put in a separate plastic bottle ended up smaller than the average size. It was hypothesized that this was due to the additional water pressure since the bottle was filled with more water.

Can't Take the Heat? Get Out of the Microwave!

News of our intriguing Bolls got around the office, and another coworker (BoneCrusher) surmised that the material might be some sort of gelatin. He suggested that we microwave some Bolls to see if they would revert to a liquid state. After about 8 seconds in the microwave we heard a slightly muffled "flump" sound, which turned out to be a Boll exploding into smaller boll-bits. Several more seconds led to several smaller "flump" sounds, and we were eventually left with a pile of warm, steamy Boll bits, and a slightly perplexed material science engineer! Further experimentation with an espresso steamer, while quite entertaining, led to the same outcome.

BoneCrusher emailed us later that afternoon with various links and a Material Data Safety Sheet for similar products; our Bolls appear to be super-absorbent polymers called polyacrylamides. In hindsight, we probably should have done a little research into the material before starting our playful experimentation; fortunately we weren't dealing with particularly hazardous material.

A New Beginning

A plethora of additional experiments were enthusiastically discussed, and we soon wished we hadn't used up the original packet of Crystal Bolls all at once! Enter Frankd20 again to save the day; he ordered 20 more packets for $5.

While we waited for the order to come in, we entertained ourselves with one last experiment: Would the Bolls go back to their original smaller size and shape if we left them in the open air? One Boll was left out on a paper towel, and another we put into a food dehydrator. Both shrunk back to original size, but the one in the dehydrator cracked in half partway through the process. We even tested to see if the de-hydrated Bolls would successfully re-hydrate, which they did, although they didn't attain as large a size as their normally- hydrated bretheren.

Part 2 of this series will detail the experiments we performed on the new shipment of Crystal Bolls.
To see more photos of the Boll Experiments performed by MC TicTac, Mello, merph, and Sharkles, visit our Facebook Page!


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Re: IncrediBoll Experiments: Part 1

02/11/2010 10:46 PM

these look like hyrated polyacrylamide gels. By varying the mix you can make permeable soil stabilizers with 1% gel in water, you mix it, wet the area, and it cross links to give some strtcure that holds the soil together. There are parametered to vary, with cross link agents. They were in vogue in the 60's, but a little too toxic to pump into the ground water. If you make a solid gel, as they do, you can have zero free monomer and as it dris it shrinks and hardens. The cost is low.

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Re: IncrediBoll Experiments: Part 1

02/12/2010 7:07 AM

Be careful that the "Boll" Weevil does not come and spoil your fun!!!!See here:-

Maybe you meant "Balls"?

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Re: IncrediBoll Experiments: Part 1

02/12/2010 8:01 AM

Given the fractured English on the package, I'd say it was a product made in Asia somewhere, and the intended meaning was indeed "balls" but the spelling was phonetic.

Yep, Andy, Balls it probably was. But Bolls is more fun, anyway, imho.

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Re: IncrediBoll Experiments: Part 1

02/12/2010 2:25 PM

This is what happens when engineers have too much spare time. Time for another scientific experiment. Get your suggestions ready.

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Re: IncrediBoll Experiments: Part 1

02/13/2010 6:49 AM

Hey that's my kinda science.
I too am dissapointed they didn't turn into giant blobs and take over the cubicle.
Sorta stuff kids should do at school, but you'd need to do a 'risk assesment' and write a shed load of paper first

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