Questions for ‘Turning jeans blue with sunlight might help the environment’

several pieces of denim dyed different shades of blue are fanned out on top of each other

Denim yarn exposed to sunlight can change color, researchers noticed. They found indican can react with light to develop its iconic blue hue.

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To accompany ‘Turning jeans blue with sunlight might help the environment


Before Reading:

  1. List at least five steps needed to transform raw, unprocessed cotton in a field into a red T-shirt. (Hint: If you’re struggling to come up with five, make sure you’re counting the small, logistical steps, such as transporting the cotton to a factory.) Circle all steps that might hurt the environment in some way. Pick one of these steps you circled, and briefly explain how it might affect the environment.
  2. What is your favorite color? Do an internet search to find one natural substance that has been used in the past to dye fabrics in your favorite shade. Where in nature might you find this substance?

During Reading:

  1. Why does dyeing fabric with indigo require harsh chemicals?  
  2. What is one specific way these chemicals harm the environment?
  3. What is one health risk posed by denim-dyeing chemicals?
  4. What property of indican makes it better for the environment than indigo?
  5. Describe light’s role in converting indican to indigo.
  6. Researchers described two potential methods for using indican. Identify one potential benefit of using the enzyme-based method.
  7. Identify one benefit of the light-dyeing method for dyeing fabrics with indican.

After Reading:

  1. “Serendipity” refers to a happy and fortunate accident. For example, the antibiotic penicillin was discovered serendipitously in 1928 when a scientist returned to his lab after vacation to find that a mold had prevented the bacteria in his petri dishes from growing. What is an example of a serendipitous discovery from this indigo story?  
  2. List three uses for dyes beyond fabrics. Consider the extent to which each of these uses might harm the environment. If you were a scientist, which would you choose to investigate first? Explain your answer. Use information from your reading to support your answer.