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Sticky Business: How a designer in England is giving chewed-up gum a new purpose.

You're putting away your new notebooks at school. As you reach into the desk, your hand brushes up against something strange. Yuck! It's a hardened glob of chewed-up gum.

Discarded chewing gum isn't a problem just in schools. When people spit gum onto sidewalks, it hardens and can stay there for years. Cleaning it can be expensive. Anna Bullus wanted to solve this pesky problem. She's a designer who came up with a way to recycle chewing gum. Today, her company, Gumdrop, makes everything from rulers to rain boots out of chewed-up gum!

Getting Gummy

Ten years ago, Bullus was a university student in London, England. She noticed a lot of gum stuck to the ground near her school. Bullus wondered: Could she collect the gum and turn it into something new?

Bullus teamed up with a chemistry lab at her school. She needed a lot of gum to experiment with. "I supplied all my friends with chewing gum and said, 'When you're done, give it to me,"' she says.

Gum, Bullus learned, is made of an edible type of rubber. The material is very sensitive to temperature changes. That's why it gets soft and stretchy when it warms up in your mouth.

Bullus had an idea: She could heat up old gum, press it together, and mold it into something new. It would harden again as it cooled.

Scaling Up

Bullus spent a year working on a prototype--or testable model--of a gum-based product. It was a small, round bin where people could deposit chewed gum.

Shaping the prototype by hand took a long time--and the bin wasn't very sturdy. So Bullus talked to engineers and other experts to learn how to improve the process. They found that mixing other substances with the gum, such as recycled plastic, made the bins stronger.

Today, Gumdrop makes the bins at a factory and sends thousands to schools, airports, and parks in England. Once the bins are full, the company collects them. Gumdrop turns the gum and the bins into products like pencils and travel mugs.

Bullus didn't expect her project to become a bustling business. But she's glad that she stuck with it. "If you can persevere, there's a solution for everything," she says.

Investigate It!

Engineers solve problems, often by inventing new things. They start by defining a problem and setting criteria, or standards, for success. They do research and then design a solution. Next, they test and improve their solution until it works just right. Think about how Anna Bullus used this process. Then answer the questions.

(1) What problem did Bullus observe in her community?

(2) How did she decide to address the problem?

(4) Why did she need to improve her original design?

* Investigate It! (Student Edition, p. 9)

1. Anna Bullus noticed a lot of gross, used gum stuck to the ground. 2. She set out to find a way to recycle the chewed gum. 3. Gum is made of an edible type of rubber. The material becomes soft and stretchy when it's warm and hardens when it cools. 4. She needed to make the bin stronger.

Sticky Business


READING LEVELS: Lexile 760 / Guided Reading Level Q

NEED A LOWER READING LEVEL? To access this article at a lower reading level, go to


Conduct an investigation to determine how changes in temperature affect the properties of gum.



Core Idea: PS1.A: Structure and properties of matter

Practice: Carrying out investigations

Crosscutting Concept: Structure and function


Writing: 1. Introduce daim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.


Science: 3.5A, 4.5A

ELA: 3.12B, 4.12B, 5.12B, 6.11B

Lesson Plan

(1) Watch a video to learn how bubble gum is made.

Show students the video "How Bubble Gum Is Made," available at After the video, ask:

* What ingredients make gum chewy? (The plastic and rubber in the gum base make gum chewy.)

* What role does temperature play in the gum-making process? (Stirring the ingredients builds up heat, which melts them together. Then the gum needs to cool and harden so it can be cut into bite-sized pieces, wrapped in paper, packaged, and sold.)

(2) Read the article and review the engineering design process.

Read "Sticky Business" as a class. Then have students answer the Investigate It! questions on their own. Ask: How did Anna Bullus use the engineering design process to create a bin for used gum? (She saw a problem, experimented with chewed gum, and then designed, built, and improved a prototype.)

(3) Investigate how changes in the temperature of gum affect its stretchiness.

Divide students into small groups. Pass out the skills sheet "Stretchiest" (T7) and the handson materials. Before the activity, ask students to predict if cold gum or warm gum will stretch farther and explain their reasons. As students complete the investigation, remind them to record their results and observations in a data table.

(4) Communicate results using claims, evidence, and reasoning.

Give each student a copy of the skills sheet "CER Chart," available at /superscience. Have students analyze their group's results using the Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER) framework. Explain that:

* A claim is a statement that is meant to answer an investigation question.

* Evidence is the data or observations supporting the claim.

* Reasoning explains how the evidence supports the claim. Remind students that they should use observations and data collected during the investigation to support their claims.

For more information on CER, visit

TEACHING TOOLS available at

Skills sheets:

Stretch Test (T7): Investigate what happens to the elasticity of chewing gum at different temperatures.

CER Chart (online only): Make and support a claim using the Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER) framework.


The Gumdrop Bin (online only): Hear Anna Bullus describe how she designed a bin to collect used chewing gum.

Caption: Anna Bullus

Caption: Anna Bullus collects used gum in pink bins around England.

Caption: The average American chews 300 sticks of gum per year. Most of that gum ends up as litter!


Stretch Test

In "Sticky Business" (pp. 8-9), you read about how chewed gum can be heated up, pressed together, and molded into new items. In this hands-on activity, you will investigate what happens to the stretchiness of chewing gum in warm and cold temperatures.

Observe: Chewing gum is made of a rubber material that is sensitive to temperature changes.

Ask a research question: Which will stretch farther: cold gum or warm gum?

Materials: nitrile gloves * 6 sticks of any sugary chewing gum * timer * cup containing 100 ml of ice water * cup containing 100 ml of warm water * thermometer * paper towels * meterstick * paper and pencil


1. Put on your nitrile gloves.

2. Chew a stick of chewing gum for 1 minute.

3. Take the gum out of your mouth and roll it into a ball.

4. Place the ball of chewed gum into the cup of ice water for 30 seconds. Record the temperature of the water.

5. Remove the gum from the cup. Use a paper towel to wipe off any excess water.

6. With one hand, hold one end of the gum down on the 0 centimeter (cm) end of the meterstick. With your other hand, slowly stretch the gum down the length of the meterstick until the gum breaks. Record how far your gum stretched in centimeters.

7. Repeat steps 2 through 6 using a fresh stick of gum and the cup of warm water.

8. This was your first trial. Perform two more trials for each temperature.

Results: What did each piece of gum feel like when you took it out of the water? How far did each piece of gum stretch before breaking? Record your results and observations in a data table.


1. Does chewing gum stretch farther when it's cold or warm?

2. An object's ability to return to its original shape after being stretched or squeezed is called elasticity. Based on your results, does temperature affect the elasticity of gum? Why or why not?

Take It Further: Repeat the investigation using bubble gum. Were your results the same or different? Why do you think that is?

* Stretch Test (Reproducible, T7)

1. Warm gum stretches farther than cold gum.

2. Results should show that gum has more elasticity in warmer temperatures than in colder temperatures. Warm gum stretches farther and doesn't break easily. Take It Further: Bubble gum is designed to stretch more than chewing gum for blowing bubbles. Results should show that warm bubble gum stretches more than warm chewing gum.
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Title Annotation:engineering; Anna Bullus
Author:Grunbaum, Mara
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 1, 2018
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