Student explorations of calcium alginate bead formation by varying pH and concentration of acidic beverage juices

Jeffrey P. Buenaflor, Cassandra K. Lydon, Aaron Zimmerman, Olivia L. Desutter, Jane E. Wissinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Teaching experiments involving edible, biodegradable calcium alginate beads serve as an attractive model system to introduce upper secondary age students to core chemistry topics through innovations in sustainable consumer products. A teaching experiment is described that engages students with the synthesis of calcium alginate hydrogel beads from sodium alginate and calcium lactate, two food-safe and renewable materials. The beads' outer membranes are a result of ionic interactions between carboxylate groups from alginate strands and the divalent calcium cations between them, thus forming cross-linked polymers. Protonation of the carboxylate groups on the alginate strands decreases crosslinking density affecting bead formation. First, various concentrations of citric acid are used to lower the pH of the sodium alginate solution and the effect on the calcium alginate bead formation is observed. A correlation between pH and bead shape and firmness is derived. This information is then used to explore juices with varying natural acidities. The experiment is amenable to implementation in the classroom or as an at-home activity. Learning outcomes include acid-base reactions, chemical bonding, polymer structures, and green chemistry concepts. Students consider the environmental challenges of traditional plastics used in packaging and how innovative new commercial products are attempting to provide solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-164
Number of pages10
JournalChemistry Teacher International
Issue number0
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research funding: This work was supported by the NSF Center for Sustainable Polymers, CHE-1901635. This work was supported (partially) by the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) Program of the National Science Foundation under Award Number DMR-1852044 and through the University of Minnesota MRSEC under Award Number DMR-2011401.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Jeffrey P. Buenaflor et al., published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston.


  • acid-base chemistry
  • green chemistry
  • hydrogels
  • sustainable polymers

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