Materials per student or group
- Paper, e.g. shredded office paper, newspaper, paper towels
- Washing-up bowl
- Wire mesh (23cm x 31cm to make an A4 screen)
- 120cm carpet tape or duct tape
- Electric hand blender
- Seeds, e.g. cress or flower seeds
- 1 kitchen cloth
- 2 newspapers
- 2 wooden boards or books (e.g. telephone directories) protected by plastic bags
- Food colouring (optional)
Making the wire mesh screen
Buy galvanized fine wire mesh at DIY and car repair shops. Cut a section a little larger than the paper you want to make, then tape the sharp edges with carpet tape or duct tape for safety. Staple it in several places to stop the tape peeling when the screen is wet.
We recommend that you pre-prepare the screens for your students.
- If you usually make paper in a different way, just add the seeds to the pulp immediately before you dip the mesh. Your Art or Design and Technology colleagues may have paper making equipment.
- If using newspaper or paper towels simply soak in hot water overnight to achieve the pulp. Shredded office paper is much stronger so use an electric hand blender to produce the pulp.
- For quick results use mustard or cress seeds.
- For a more substantial plant, use wild flower or poppy seeds and include growing instructions for the recipient of the blooming paper. This will usually require laying the blooming paper on top of a pot of soil or planting the sheet just below the surface and watering well. Designing and writing growing instructions could be part of the activity.
- Plant seeds are very resilient and the blooming paper can last for months if kept dry.
- Make sure you remove all of the excess water by squeezing thoroughly between the boards. Dry the paper quickly overnight on a windowsill or the seeds will start to germinate.
Paper is made of cellulose fibres, usually from wood or cotton. The longer the fibre, the stronger the paper. Soaking the paper in hot water overnight and breaking it up with your fingers means that the fibres stay intact and the new paper is stronger but more coarse.
Mixing with a blender chops up the cellulose fibres and the new paper is finer but more fragile and harder to remove from the mesh in one piece.
- What was the paper originally made of?
- What is happening to the paper as it turns to pulp?
- How can we reduce the amount of paper we waste? Reinforce the need for recycling and demonstrate how effective it is.
- Use a hand lens or microscope to look at the structure of the paper. Tear a piece of the original paper and look at the edges. Can you see the fibres? Compare them to the rough edge of your new paper. How has the paper bonded together?
- Explore how other paper products, such as banknotes, are made.
- Add food colouring to get different shades of paper.
- Try using different types of paper and different types of seeds.
- Try testing the strength of the paper you make. For example, attach a bulldog clip to the bottom of a strip of paper and hang weights from it, or suspend your strip between two desks and place weights on it. Compare paper made with a blender and paper that has been soaked overnight.
- Explore the different uses of smart systems and smart materials. Discuss why they have been developed.
Links to everyday life
Paper in history
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used paper, although nature got there first. Paper wasps chew cellulose fibres from plant stems and dead wood and mix them with saliva to produce water-resistant papery nests.
A paper plane has been designed to be launched from the International Space Station. The 30g plane, designed by engineers at Tokyo University, will be released during a space walk or jettisoned from the air lock and will travel 240 miles to Earth at speeds of up to 15,200 mph.
The 20cm paper dart, which looks like the Space Shuttle, has been engineered out of silicon-treated heat resistant paper that can withstand the temperatures of up to 200 degrees centigrade as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. If it survives the descent it will most likely end up in the sea.
The plane bears a message in several languages saying: “This plane flew from the International Space Station. Please return the plane to Japan Origami Plane Association”. If the project is successful it could inspire new designs for lightweight re-entry craft or for planes to explore the upper atmosphere.
Scientists have developed paper batteries, which are 90% cellulose impregnated with carbon nanotubes. These carbon nanotubes allow the paper to conduct electricity by acting as electrodes.
The batteries look like sheets of paper and can be rolled, folded, twisted or cut without any loss of efficiency. They can also be stacked, like a pile of paper, to increase the power output. Paper batteries have the potential to be used in medicine as blood can act as an electrolyte to activate them.
Paper has also been used as an unusual material in the fashion industry.