Learn about the states of matter with a snowman project. See what snow can teach you about water in all its states.

Pin It

What You Need:

  • Snow accumulation
  • Gloves and other outside winter playwear
  • 8×8 (or similar size) glass (or other microwaveable) baking dish
  • Microwave
  • Masking tape
  • Hot pads or oven mitts
  • adult supervision

What You Do:

Go in your yard and build a small snowman. Since this snowman will come in your house and take a trip into your microwave, make sure he’ll fit. And don’t worry about decking it out with eyes or other accessories. Once you’re happy with your snowman, carefully place it in the shallow baking dish and bring it in the house. Go to the kitchen, and with an adult or older person’s help, put the dish, snowman and all, in the microwave. Turn on the microwave for about a minute or so and watch as the snowman melts. Once only water remains, use the oven mitts to take the dish out of the microwave and look it over. Use a piece of masking tape to mark the water line on the outside of the container. Then return it to the microwave and turn it on again, this time for about three to four minutes. Watch closely. After a time, the water should begin to bubble and boil. Keep watching! Soon you should see steam rising from the dish. Continue watching and adding time to the microwave until you’ve been able to observe  the steam cloud over the dish for 30 seconds or longer. Very carefully use the oven mitts to take the container out of the microwave. Is the water now below the tape?

What Happened:

Water is a unique substance. It is the only naturally occurring substance that can exist in all three states of matter at the temperatures normally found on Earth. The states of matter are solid, liquid, and gas. As the snowman, the water was a solid. When it melted, it became a liquid. The steam you saw when the water boiled was actually water in its gas form, and it’s also called water vapor. Although water is normally a  liquid, when it reaches 32°Fahrenheit (F), it freezes into ice. Ice is the solid state of water. Water boils when it reaches 212° F. When it boils, some of the water turns into steam, which is water in its gas state of water and is also called water vapor.

So if water, ice, and steam are all the same thing, why do they look so different? Some substances, like water, can have more than one different state of matter. When an object is a solid, its molecules (or the smallest part of a substance that can still be identified as that substance) are arranged in a rigid pattern and don’t move very much. But in a liquid, molecules are farther apart from each other and move around instead of sticking together. The movement is why liquid will take the shape of the container it is in. With gas, the molecules are even further apart and move really fast with no pattern at all.