Modern engineering includes semiconductors in electronics, microprocessors, LEDs, solar panels, and more. How they work and how they are made can be difficult to teach to children. This glue batik activity uses a fun art project to give children a hands-on experience to help them learn the concepts.
When people are working with circuits (such as engineers and scientists), they use circuit diagrams and symbols to easily communicate how the circuit is built and what it does. Even if people speak different languages, they can still use the circuit diagram and symbols to communicate.
Silicon or semiconducting chips are produced by building different layers. Batik is a method (originally used in Indonesia) that produces colored designs on textiles by dyeing them, having first applied wax to the parts to be left undyed.
In this activity, we will use washable glue to replace the hot wax method. Our batik will be an analogy for a semiconductor chip: the fabric will be the substrate, the glue will be similar to the gold that is used for the circuit, and the paint will represent the silicon.
Safety note: Be sure to explain safety precautions to children. This experiment uses paint and glue. Eye and clothing protection should be used. Avoid getting chemicals on clothing. After these experiments, be sure to thoroughly clean hands. Disclaimer: All information provided on this site is for entertainment purposes only. Using any information from thecasabouquet.com is at your own risk.
Introduce children to the symbols of circuit diagrams. Explain the idea that a working circuit has to have a completed loop of elements. To illustrate this, try the University of Virginia virtual lab with two light bulbs. Provide the children with a set of circuit symbols to use for their project.
Introduce semiconductor chips. Use the YouTube videos “How do they make silicon wafers and computer chips?” and “Silicon wafer animation.”
Next, the children get to design their own version of a computer chip. Using a white piece of paper and a dark marker, use the circuit symbols to create a circuit. Draw this in a “fat” way, you will later be drawing this with glue, so you won’t be able to do fine detail.
Make a sandwich of the design paper, a piece of wax paper, and a piece of white fabric. Use a piece of cardboard on the bottom if desired for stability. Trace the design onto the fabric using washable glue. Allow the glue to dry.
Ahead of time, put acrylic paint in bowls and dilute with water. Thinner paint will dry faster but still color the fabric. Provide the paint in bowls or cups with a paintbrush for each color. Paint the fabric in blocks of colors. Bigger areas of colors will work better. Painting over colors can result in a very muddy looking project. Allow the paint to dry.
Wash the fabric squares to remove the glue. Hand-washing with liquid dish soap or a little laundry detergent will work. You will feel “slime” on the fabric as long as there is still glue. Some of the paint color will come out. [Note: when I’ve had a large group, I’ve washed these in the washing machine on a short cycle with good results. I’ve also put 20 of them in a bathtub. Just be prepared to clean any excess paint globs from your washer or tub with wipes or a cloth.] Allow the fabric to dry.
Completing a batik design and relating the design to how PC chips and other products are designed and built will be a measure of success. You may want to challenge advanced students to create working circuit diagrams.
- circuit symbol list
- Acrylic paint
- paint brushes
- Elmer’s blue gel glue (or other washable glue)
- white fabric, broadcloth or muslin (1 yard of 42” wide fabric should make twelve 9”x14” rectangles)
- rectangular cardboard pieces
- thick dark marker
- white printer paper
- disposable bowls or cups (to hold paint)
- water (to mix with paint and clean brushes)
- liquid dish soap or laundry soap
What is the science?
Content: energy, electric circuits, semiconductors
Circuits in semiconductor chips are a dominant part of modern life. Computer chips, the IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor), LEDs, and solar panels are just a few of the devices built upon the original development of silicon wafers. They are found in CFL and LED light bulbs, coffee makers, refrigerators, cars, phones: the list goes on and on.
- General Lab Safety resources from Flinn Scientific. Be sure to check out the Student Safety Contract.
- UVA Virtual Lab: Two bulbs in series
- How Semiconductors Work from How Stuff Works
- How do they make silicon wafers and computer chips? YouTube video from science.discovery.com
- Silicon wafer animation. YouTube video from Silicon Valley Technical Institute
- Circuits from TryEngineering
- Circuit symbols and circuit diagrams from The Physics Classroom
Let’s talk story
I would like to thank Dr. Nayo Mack and Erik Schettig for their help in developing this activity. It’s hard to decide how and when to teach semiconductors to children. Understanding of electric circuits is a foundation, but too often, semiconductors don’t get introduced until college engineering classes. Electric current first appears in the Next Generation Science Standards in grade 4. Children have interest in how lights work and circuits and silicon chips can be taught using models and analogies.
I love the idea of using a creative activity to help teach a concept. Using both sides of the brain helps motivate children. This type of activity can provide an anchor, helping to retain the memory of the concepts. And it can even be inspiring!
Affiliate links: if you make a purchase using these links, I’ll receive a small compensation towards maintaining this blog, at no extra cost to you.