Sopanification ~ The Enemy of Ear Potatoes Everywhere

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For Ages 8 – 12

Do your parents remind you to use soap to wash behind your ears?  Why do they do that?

Well, first of all, they don’t want any potato plants sprouting back there.  Can you imagine how inconvenient it would be to have potatoes growing behind your ears?

They also probably know a little secret about soap.  You see, your body creates oil which oozes out of your skin.  That oil protects your skin, but it also grabs ahold of dirt.  Water won’t clean off all the yucky stuff stuck to your skin.  Soap dissolves in water and in oil.  Once it thins out the oil on your skin, the soap washes away with the oil.  That dirt that was clinging to the back of your ears washes away, too.

That’s great, but what, exactly is soap?  Did you know that soap is the result of a chemical reaction called sopanification?  A chemical reaction is a pretty amazing thing; it involves changing a chemical substance into something completely different.  Imagine a school bus colliding with a bicycle and turning into a convertible and a minivan.  It’s kind of like that!  That’s because the molecules of each chemical compound (your school bus and bicycle) break apart and form new chemical compounds (the convertible and minivan).  Amazing, right?


The next part is a little bit complicated.  Here’s how that amazing change happens:

The compounds, or substances, we start with are an organic acid and a very strong base (or alkali).

‘Acid’ and ‘alkali’ are just the names for  chemicals that have been measured on the pH scale.  The pH scale tells us how many hydrogen ions are in a substance.  If something scores less than 7, you have an acid.  More than 7, and you have a base.

If you combine an acid and a base, you get a chemical reaction, like a bicycle and a school bus colliding.  Presto chango!  You have something completely different.

The alkali used in soap making used to be something easy to find, like ash from the fire.  Today, soap makers use chemicals: either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide.  The acid in your soap is either a vegetable oil or tallow.  Tallow is melted animal fat, usually from a cow or a sheep.

No, you can’t just rub behind your ears with the fat from your steak and some burnt wood out of the fireplace. Gross!

Remember, when we put the acid and the base together, there’s a great big collision and you get two totally different substances; in this case, soap and glycerin.  Both are slippery, because they are still slightly basic.  That’s because our acid wasn’t as strong as our base.

God made our world incredibly complex.  There are amazing things happening all around us, like chemical reactions that change two substances into two completely different substances.  Pay attention and God may show you something exciting He wants to transform inside of you!

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2(NLT)

~ Danika Cooley

Danika Cooley is a freelance children’s writer with a love for God’s Word, history, wisdom and small people. Her work has appeared in magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr., Pockets, Devozine, Keys for Kids, and Cobblestone Group’s FACES and Odyssey and in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.  


  1. Chandra says

    How cool is that!?! What 8 year old boy isn’t going to want to shower after learning about bikes turning into convertables ha ha. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge with the rest of us.

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