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Chemistry of School Supplies

When we think of August, we tend to think of the end of summer, but also its back to school for many. This begins the purchasing of school supplies, backpacks filled with notebooks, pencils, binders and erasers. It really gets us thinking…what really goes into our school supplies?

The marker pens many of us use include water, additives, solvent and preservatives and depending on the type of marker, the other ingredients can differ. Permanent markers typically use toluene and xylene in their solvent which help give the markers their “permanent” properties. While washable markers use alcohols such as 1-propanol and 1-butanol mixed with various others alcohols.

Pencils, like the ones you may have experienced breaking in the middle of the exam and then had to go sharpen, are made from a mixture of clay, wood and graphite. How might the darker lead color be achieved? Easily! Manufacturers add in carbon black to increase the darkness of the lead and paste from a mixture of clay and graphite powder – these are cut on a metal rod into a pencil-length piece. This is then heated up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Now you’re ready to fill in those multiple choice answer sheets!

When the bell rings, remember chemistry is heading to class with you too.

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