Part of the show Social Insects, Biting Bugs and a Potted History of Honey
What you Need
What to do
Add 2-3 tablespoons of salt to the water
Boil the yoghurt pot for 3-4 minutes, take it out with a spoon.
Is it the same as when you put it in?
What may happen
You will find that the yoghurt pot has shrunk down much smaller, almost forming a flat piece of plastic. Also the plastic has got much stiffer and thicker.
Why does it happen?
In order to understand what is going on you have to know how a yoghurt pot is made. It starts of a a sheet of Polyethylene about 1mm thick. Polyethylene is made of great big long molecules up to a few million atoms long. In the original sheet the molecules are all wiggley.
The plastic is heated up enough to allow the molecules to move past each other and the plastic softens. A former is then pushed into the plastic and the air sucked out around it (this is called vaccum forming). This stretches out the molecules in the sides of the pot to be almost straight.
The plastic is then cooled down and the former removed.
What happens when you boil the pot?
When you heat something up you give the molecules energy, this causes them to vibrate and writhe. When you heat the yogurt pot to 110°C or so the molecules are writhing enough to move past each other so the plastic becomes soft and rubbery.
As they write the molecules in the parts of the pot that were stretched out will tend to get more wigglely and therefore shorter, pulling the base of the pot upwards and making it flat again.
This will happen to any plastic that softens when heated and is why crisp packets shrink if you put them on a fire and why lemonade bottles distort if you fill them with tea.