Denaturing Milk
Although we are not sure what Carver taught his students that first year, we can guess that because he had spent a great deal of time studying the dairy industry and products in Iowa, that this could have been a part of the curriculum. Tuskegee had been a farm and there were milk cows, so he may have started with some simple work with milk. Additional background information can be found at the bottom of this page.

Materials Required

• Stove, pan and graduate cylinder
• Small container for holding liquid
• 50 ml of milk (non fat is best, but any will work)
• 5 ml vinegar
• Lighter or matches 

1) Pour about 50 ml of milk into your clean pan. (Use your new graduated cylinder for this purpose.)

2) Heat the milk gently over your candle heating stove until it is just warm. (100 degrees F if you have a thermometer. If not, test the milk temperature as one would test milk from a baby’s bottle–on the wrist)

3) When the milk is warm, add 5 ml of vinegar. Stir. Note the reaction–the curds and whey are forming and separating.

4) Carefully separate the liquid whey from the clabbered (white curdled) milk by straining it through a filter. Cheesecloth or a paper filter made from paper towels can be used. Fold the paper towel to make a filter as shown below:

5) The liquid that drips through the filter is whey.  The curds stay in the filter.  Save the curds in a separate cup.
Question: Describe the properties of the curds. What do they look like?
Curds are the part of milk that is the protein and fat.  The curds are used to make cheese and cottage cheese.  The whey is the the liquid portion of milk that contains the sugars and some smaller proteins.  It can be used to make ricotta cheese or whey protein supplements.
We can use our curds and whey in several experiments! 

Making Glue

Making Glue

Now the milk is in two parts: the watery whey and the solid curds, the proteins from the milk (and fat if you have used anything but non fat milk). In this next exploration, we add a polymerizing agent to the proteins to form a chain of proteins. 

Materials Required

• Clabbered milk (the curds from separated milk)
• Mixing cups
• Spoon
• Borax (Can be found in the laundry section of the market)
• 1/4 teaspoon measure
Procedure: Making Glue

1.  Separate the curds into two cups. This way two different  glue experiments can be done.

2.  To one cup add 1/4 teaspoon of powdered borax. Leave the other cup for later.

3.  Stir. Watch the mixture carefully. Describe the activity of the mixture.

4. When the mixture is a smooth consistency, you have made white glue!  If you want glue that is thinner, add a little whey or water. 

5.  Test your glue by trying it on different things–paper, cardboard, plastic, wood.  How can you test the strength of your glue?
Carver knew that milk was composed of water, fat, protein, sugar and other trace ingredients. Milk is a colloid. A colloid is liquid where solid materials are help up into the water for an extended amount of time by loose chemical bonds. A colloid can also be a mixture of other kinds of materials. Fog and smoke are colloids. Fog is water suspended in air. Smoke is particles suspended in air. Milk is an example of a colloid because fat and protein are suspended in a liquid. Colloids remain able to suspend their particles for a long time and will remain unchanged unless there are external influences. 

A good representation of the difference between solutions, colloids and suspensions can be found at

The authors at that site demonstrate how larger molecules (blue and green spheres) of a colloid are held up by water molecules (red and black molecules). In milk, the large molecules of proteins are held in place but are not in solution.

When an acid is present, the colloid is weakened and the protein can no longer remain upheld by the water. The proteins and fats fall out.  The acid continues to tear apart proteins into small particles. This is called denaturing (or altering) the protein.

Milk can be separated into the two basic components, whey and curds, by adding acid. Stomach acid from a cow, called rennet, it used for many food processes. Other acids like vinegar also work.

How can the different glue formulas be tested? Some chemical engineers are interested in this kind of research because they can bring products to the market and advertise that they have “Gorilla Glue” see 

1) Repeat the processes above to separate the protein from milk. Set aside portions of the protein (casein) for additional trials of specific amounts of borax, say 1/8, 1/4, 3/8 teaspoon. Or, consider another variable, skim milk, soy milk, 1% milk etc. Have students set the formulas for at least three different trials.

2) Have students design a testing apparatus. Cut test materials (paper, etc.) so that the surface area of contact is the same throughout the trials. Test the glue by pulling the test materials apart. Have students experiment with different ways of pulling the test papers apart. How will one know the force necessary to pull the paper apart? How will the test remain consistent so that the strength of the glue can be verified?