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Name: Jennifer D.
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Location: CT
Country: USA
Date: Summer 2011


Question:
My mother gave me a project that I thought I would be able to finish. I was suppose to come up with a fabric that dissolves with heat leaving no residue behind. I worked on the project with my chemistry teacher but the only thing we accomplished was turning colored paper to a clear color. I've been researching for months and nothing.

Have tried paraffin and other materials and keep hitting a brick wall. Is there a material that I would be able to test before I loose my mind?



Replies:
Hi Jennifer,

I cannot see that it is possible to create a fabric that disappears leaving no residue, when exposed to moderate heat (say, 500°F or less). Materials exposed to heat commonly melt or otherwise degrade, but they don't just disappear!

There is one possibility that you may not have thought of, however. The plastic material called Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA) is water-soluble, and has been used in the past to make, for example, laundry bags which dissolve when the bag (together with the laundry it contains) is thrown into the washing machine. A fabric made of PVA still will not disappear when heated, but will dissolve in water and "disappear".

However, you might want to think twice about wearing such a fabric in the rain!

Regards,

Bob Wilson.


Jennifer,

You cannot make a material completely disappear -- you cannot simply destroy matter. However, you can vaporize it or dissolve it in a solvent.

If your goal is to make a fabric vaporize, most synthetics (e.g. polymers) will vaporize at around 500C+, this process is called pyrolysis. Although there are plenty of materials that are more heat-resistant. This is comparable with the self-clean cycle in a household oven (and in fact, pyrolysis is how the self-clean works).

However, if you want to make a material disappear at a more moderate temperature, I think you will have problems. Most textile fibers are designed to be resistant at temperatures of over 100C.

Alternatively, you could also dissolve the polymer in a solvent, but that is not really what you are asking.

Hope this helps,
Burr Zimmerman


This is a challenging project. There is an answer, but it requires careful handling. Start with an article made of cellulose (paper or fabric). Convert it to what is called "flash paper".

This is an item used by magicians. Its limitation is that it is very flammable -- ignites and burns very quickly -- fraction of a second. It leaves no residue after ignition.

If you "Google" the term "flash paper" you will find numerous recipes. It meets your objectives, but it does have its downside.

Vince Calder


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