Water beads are processed forms of liquid crystalline polymer or polymer crystals that absorb water to become gelatinous beads. Water beads have practical applications, including use in diapers, sanitary napkins, hot and cold packs and even in the production of high-strength fibers and optical devices. And water beads are even available in a variety of colors for decorative applications.
Conformationally Disordered Polymer Crystals
The molecules in polymer crystals are in random configurations. Gaps between the molecules are filled when the water beads come into contact with water. This is how water beads are able to absorb the amount of water they do. Water beads are also called hydrophilic, or water-loving, polymers because of their high absorbency.
The ability of water beads to store and release water makes them an environmentally friendly and efficient method for watering plants. Water beads are used in vases and other floral displays as a soil-free time-release watering method. They keep plants and cut flowers fresh by retaining the water for a long time and release it as the plant requires. Landscapers apply a similar principle by mixing water beads in with soil. This reduces both the watering time and the amount of water needed.
Practical Household Applications
Water beads are used in many household products where absorbency is desired. They are most prevalent in diapers, where they can absorb quite a lot of liquid while keeping the surface of the diaper dry. Water beads can also be used to clean up large spills. They are a component of some ice packs and similar cooling devices.
Water beads come in various sizes, colors and finishes (e.g., clear or frosted) for craft use. Colored water beads can be used in candle displays, flower arrangements, faux aquariums, and in any use where a beautiful look and an aqueous environment are desired.
- International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry; Definitions of Basic Terms Relating to Polymer Liquid Crystals; M. Baron and R.F.T. Stepto; 2002
- YouTube; Water Beads; lakestv3; May 2009
- Case Western Reserve University: Main Chain Polymer Liquid Crystals
- Steve Spangler Science: Water Absorbing Crystals
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images Matt Stroshane/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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