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Tie Dye Teaches Chemistry Students About Organic Reactions

Each year at Kenmore West High School in Mr. Race's Honors Chemistry, Mr. Clinch's and Mrs. Grosskopf's Regents Chemistry, and Mrs. Schlifke's Chemistry in the Community laboratory classes, students learn about organic chemical reactions by studying the chemistry of dye.
Students tie dye cotton T-shirts to observe a "substitution" reaction. The dye molecule knocks a hydrogen atom off the cellulose, chemically bonding to the fibers in the cotton shirt. This  substitutes the pigment molecule in place of a hydrogen atom, making the shirt permanently colored.
Students also learn that organic reactions are slow, which is why the dye should sit on the shirt for at least eight hours, preferably a day.
Not only do the students finish the assignment with a better understanding of organic reactions, but they also end up with a fantastic custom-made tie-dye shirt too!