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Paper Petals

This activity is a fun way to combine science and art.

To try it, you will need:

  • paper
  • scissors
  • crayons
  • a shallow dish of water

On the paper, draw a large flower. You want a flower that has a large center and nice, large petals. Something that looks like a daisy or sunflower will work very well. You can also download and print a page of flowers that I drew on the computer.

Once you have drawn the flower, use the crayons to color it. Then carefully cut out the flower, cutting around each petal. You want to be able to fold the petals inwards over the center of the flower, so don't make the petals too long.

Use crayons to color the backs of the petals, but do not color the center. We do not want it to be coated with wax. Carefully fold each petal across the center, so the flower is closed up. Then place the flower, petal side up, in the dish of water. Then watch it carefully. What happened?

Slowly, the petal opened, as if the flower was blooming. Why? Paper is made of fibers of cellulose from wood pulp. When you folded the paper, you squeezed the fibers, compacting them on the inside of the fold. As water soaked into the paper, it caused the squeezed fibers in the paper to expand. The swelling fibers pushed outwards, unfolding the paper.

You can try different kinds of paper and get the flower to open at different speeds. If some of your petals do not open, try making them shorter with a wider base. That seems to help.