The science behind Shrinky Dinks
The science behind Shrinky Dinks After coloring Shrinky Dinks, they go in the oven, then the "magical" science begins. (Yumi Barak-Vong/Nancy Dorsner/Flickr)
The science behind Shrinky Dinks
Lexile: 660L

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Shrinky Dinks were introduced in 1973. They had kids (and crafty adults) creating artwork on flexible sheets of plastic. When they were popped into the oven, they would magically shrink. They shrunk down to approximately 1/3 their original size. You were then supposed to play with whatever it was you made. But the entertainment value was all in coloring pictures of your favorite cartoon characters. Then you watched them crinkle up in the oven. And then they mysteriously lie down flat again.

But, magic isn't behind the toy's quirky properties.  The sheets of plastic you get in a Shrinky Dinks kit is polystyrene. It's the same stuff as recycled plastic #6. It is commonly used for those clear clamshell containers. You often see them in cafeterias. Raw polystyrene is heated when it is made. It is rolled out into thin sheets. Then it is rapidly cooled so that it can retain its shape.

The polymer chains within the polystyrene are bunched up by nature. They are randomly clumped together. Then they are heated and rolled. They are cooled. This process forces them to straighten out and get into a more orderly configuration. All the polymers want to do is bounce back into their more disorderly arrangement. They are able to do this when the polystyrene is heated again. It's like when you pop a cookie sheet full of Shrinky Dinks into the oven. The term "magic" works pretty darn well. That is when it comes to marketing purposes.

Shrinky Dinks are moving beyond their reputation as a kid's toy. Scientists are finding practical applications for the whimsical sheets of plastic. That's according to a study from Northwestern University. They are being used in the world of nanotechnology. It's a branch of science. It looks at the properties of materials on very small scales. Take glass as an example. It is usually used to insulate electronic material and conducts electricity on the nano scale. Metals like gold can appear red or blue. This branch of science is being used in the real world. It is used to make solar cells. It's also being used to make high-density displays and chemical sensors.

Scientists who want manipulate the properties of certain materials work with nano-scale patterns. They are printed with those materials. The printing process takes time. It is very expensive. New printing technology can print those patterns on Shrinky Dink plastic. Scientists can then shrink the plastic so they can further their nano-scale investigations. The technology is cost effective. Laboratories can independently produce as many copies of these test patterns as they need. That's pretty crafty. There really is a Shinky Dinks kit for everyone.

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Were you familiar with Shrinky Dinks before this article? Do you think you would like to try them? Why or why not?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • alexm-hel
    8/17/2020 - 03:55 p.m.

    The Shrinky Dinks are cool i want to try one one or use one. I want to try them because you can almost make whatever you want it seems awsome.

  • jackiep-hel
    8/17/2020 - 03:56 p.m.

    i like this article but i hate how long it is for something that you can explane in like one paragraph

  • brooklynm-hel
    8/18/2020 - 10:39 a.m.

    Before this article I never new Shrinky Dinks were a thing and yes i would like to try them because they seem really interesting to me. Why is because there basically science and I like science and also because I love to draw and on these you can color. But not just that you can also cook them like cookies in the oven and I love to cook and make sweets.

  • nellieu-hel
    8/18/2020 - 04:02 p.m.

    Shrinky Dinks are a great hack on when your bored or you just wanna do something fun. With only a piece of plastic, and a maker u can draw anything u would like. Put it in the oven and watch it shrink. But, not only kids can do this method. Adults can too! It's a great way to get out your bordem.

  • marcusm-hel
    8/18/2020 - 04:58 p.m.

    This is the first I have ever heard of Shrinky Dinks, but I have heard of something similar where you put a chip back in the oven then they get smaller and smaller.

    I would like to try them they seem very fun, and interesting. I think I would do experiments with them like put them in the freezer.

  • neiln-hel
    8/19/2020 - 02:47 p.m.

    No, I did not know of shrinky Dinks before I read this article and I don't think I would like to try them because I don't wanna mess it up I would probably have someone else do it so I watch so that see what they can do and I also think that it's dangerous.

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