How does a baby gummy bear grow up to be a big gummy bear?
It seems like a riddle that cannot be solved. After all, gummy bears are candies, so how can they grow?
The answer is … through science! Or specifically, through osmosis.
Check out how osmosis can grow your gummy bears (and also shrink!) through the simple science experiment below!
The Gummy Bear Osmosis Experiment
I am including all the different liquids and solutions we tested below. You do not have to do all of them but I suggest selecting at least a couple to try out besides water.
- Gummy bears
- Baking Soda
- Optional: Gummy Bear Experiment Worksheet (I recommend laminating it so it doesn’t get wet)
- Using paper or post-its, label each container with its contents: water, salt water, sugar water, vinegar, etc.
- Fill the container labeled water with ½ cup of tap water.
- Heat 1.5 cups of water in the microwave or on the stovetop.
- Pour ½ cup of hot water in the container labeled salt water. Add salt a little bit at a time, stirring every time. When the water is saturated with salt (no more salt is dissolving), stop and leave the solution to cool (you can put it in the fridge to make it cool faster). If you put gummy bears in warm or hot water, they will dissolve.
- Repeat step #4 with sugar instead of salt.
- Pour ½ cup of hot water in the container labeled baking soda and stir 1 tablespoon of baking soda.
- Fill the container labeled vinegar with ½ cup of vinegar.
- Fill the container labeled milk with ½ cup of milk.
- After all the liquids have reached room temperature, put a gummy bear in each container.
- Make predictions on what is going to happen to the gummy bears in the various liquids. Will they get bigger, smaller, or stay the same? You can record your predications on the Gummy Bear Experiment Worksheet to keep track.
- Leave the gummy bears in the liquids for 12 hours. I did put the milk container in the fridge overnight because I didn’t want the milk to spoil, but that could have stunted the growth of the gummy bear by slowing down the rate of osmosis (need to experiment more to make that conclusion).
- Carefully take out the gummy bears from their respective containers and place them a plate, or the Gummy Bear Experiment Worksheet if you are using it.
- Place a control gummy bear (one that has not been submerged in any liquid) next to each of the gummy bears you removed from the containers.
- Discuss with your child the difference in sizes. Did your child predict correctly what was going to happen to the gummy bears?
The Science Behind Growing Gummy Bears
The gummy bears are made up of water, sugar, and gelatin. The gelatin allows the gummy bears to grow in liquid instead of dissolves like other candies, as we observed in the melting Skittles or floating “m” M&Ms experiments.
The gelatin also acts like a semi-permeable membrane that allows water to enter the gummy bears.
Due to osmosis, water wants to either enter or exit the gummy bear to equalize the concentrations of each side of the membrane. For example, when the gummy bear is in plain water, there is more sugar inside the gummy bear. Therefore, water diffuses, or moves into, the gummy bear to decrease the amount of sugar versus water.
As water moves into the gummy bear, the gummy bear starts to grow. Eventually, the sugar concentration inside the gummy bear is the same as the sugar concentration inside the liquid, and osmosis stops.
If you truly saturated your salt or sugar solutions, your gummy bear should shrink. Water should have moved out of the gummy bear since there is more salt or sugar in the liquid. However, if your gummy bears grew (like ours did), that means the gummy bears still had more salt and water than the amount we dissolved in the water.
In vinegar, the gummy bear should have grown. However, since we left it in the vinegar overnight, the acid in the vinegar broke down the gelatin. As a result, our gummy bear dissolved and completely disappeared!
Check out the bouncy egg experiment to conduct another fun osmosis experiment!
Final Thoughts on the Gummy Bear Experiment
The gummy bear experiment takes a little time to set up, but the process is very simple. Your kid will have fun guessing what is going to happen to the gummy bears in the various solutions.
You can test out what will happen to the gummy bear in other liquids. You can try juice, sports drink, or even apple cider vinegar.
For older kids, you can also have them weigh and measure the gummy bears to compare the weight and size differences.