Chemical Conundrum Mass is a measurement that may

Chemical Conundrum

Mass is a measurement that may be used to separate individual
chemicals out of a complex mixture. In this activity, students will
explore different methods of separating out a complex mixture, and
explore the difference between mass and weight.

Grades: 6-8
Subjects: Science
Concepts: Understanding mass
versus weight; Separation of
complex mixtures

Oregon Science Standards:


6.1P.1 Describe physical and chemical
properties of matter and how they can
be measured.
7.1P.1 Explain that all matter is made of
atoms, elements are composed of a
single kind of atom, and compounds are
composed of two or more different



Why could you live on roots and berries, but
not off of the ground they grow in? Why could
you stay warm by burning wood, but not rocks?
Why might water pipes burst in the winter? The
answers can be found in the composition of
these materials as well as the properties of the
chemicals that make up these different
substances. We could guess why all of these
things occur, but by measuring those chemical
properties, we can find out the answers to our
questions, and may even predict what may
happen under different conditions.
Therefore, the study of chemicals and their
properties, and how we might measure those
properties can be important to everyone.
Essentially chemistry can be thought of as using
knowledge of how matter is put together and its
interactions with other matter to solve confusing

Part A
-(Optional) Computer and projector

Part B
-Bowls/cups for each group
-1 pkg. regular M&Ms; 1 pkg. peanut
M&Ms; 1 pkg. peanut butter M&Ms;
1pkg. Pretzel M&Ms; 1 pkg. almond
-(Optional) Simple scale for weighing
Note: Alternative candies of similar sizes
and weights can be substituted, or done
with fewer types of candy
Note: The candies could be exchanged
with colored marbles of different
weights/sizes, or any objects that
maintain a similar size, but differ in

Part C
-(Optional) Computer

Time Considerations
Preparation: 10 minutes
Activity: 30 minutes

Part A and C
Set-up: Using a computer hooked up to
a projector, navigate to the websites

Part B
Set-up: In a large bowl, mix the 3
packages of candies. Fill smaller
bowls/cups with the mixed candies, one
bowl per group.
Activity: Separate the students into
groups of 3 or 4. Instruct the students
not to eat the candies until the activity is

Related Activities
Mass spectrometry activity


To understand the scale/concept of a
To understand how mass/weight can be
used to identify chemicals
To understand the difference between
mass and weight


Part A What is a chemical?
A chemical is any substance with a specific
molecular composition either used or created
by an exchange of energy. Chemicals are found
throughout the Earth, both created naturally and
by humans. A large combination of chemicals
are used to make pesticides. Scientists are
currently trying to figure out what chemicals
are in pesticides, and determine whether they
are safe. So how big is a chemical?
A chemical is made up of atoms. Atoms are
very, very small smaller even than the dot
made by the point of a pencil. Therefore,
chemicals are very small as well, making it
difficult to see them. Therefore, scientists
must come up with ways to see their
(Optional) To understand how small an
atom really is, use the demonstration provided
by the University of Utah. Chemicals can be
thousands of times smaller than even a grain of

Guiding Questions: If atoms make up chemicals,
and chemicals make up pesticides, what might be a
way to find out what chemicals are in pesticides?

Part B Separation
Scientists are often tasked with identifying
unknown chemicals in a mixture. For example, a
scientist may be given a sample of river water,
and then asked to identify the chemicals in the
sample. They often identify the chemicals by
separating the mixture.
Using M&Ms, ask the students to separate
the candies different ways. They may use color,
size or shape as ways to separate the candies.
However, all the candies are slightly different in
weight. The peanut M&Ms will weigh more
than the peanut butter M&Ms , which will
weigh more than the regular M&Ms .
Using the weight of the candies to separate
them is similar to how scientists identify
chemicals. Using a machine called a mass
spectrometer, chemists can separate chemicals
based on their mass. Thus, in a sample of river
water, a scientist could more easily identify a
pesticide by searching for chemicals in the
mixture that had the same specific mass of the
pesticide they were searching for.
(Optional) Use a scale to measure 5-10 of
each candy, to determine the weight of each
group. Which group weighs more?
Guiding Questions: What are some chemicals
that could be found in river water? What are
ways you can separate the MnMs(or other
alternative) into different groups? Do they
weigh the same? Could you use the difference
in weight to separate out the candies?

Part C Understanding Mass
While our mass stays constant, our weight
changes as gravity changes. For example, on
the moon, a person who weighs 100 pounds on
Earth will weigh 16 pounds on the moon!
(Optional) The calculator provided by the
Exploratorium allows students to calculate
their weight on any of the planets, and the
moons of Jupiter.

Guiding Questions: If a person weighs 140
pounds on the Earth, will they weigh more or
less on Jupiter? Hint: Jupiter has a heavier
gravitational field.

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