Make Your Own Lava Lamp

Overview

Students will explore polarity and density by creating colorful lava lamps!  

Experiment Length

30 minutes

day 3

materials
  • A clear, plastic waterbottle (or a clear cup/jar)

  • Tap water

  • Vegetable oil

  • Alka-seltzer tablets

  • Optional: flashlights (can also use the light from their phones)

  • Food coloring

steps
  1. Fill cup around ¼ cup way with water

  2. Add a few drops of desired food coloring

  3. Fill the cup the rest of the way (but not all the way) with oil. The oil should rest on top of the colored water.

  4. Mix together the two liquids, then let them sit for a few minutes and observe. Are they still mixed?

  5. Break your Alka-Seltzer tablet into quarter pieces, then add one in! Make sure that the solid and water are nicely separated for the best results! The water should bubble up because Alka-Seltzer reacts with water to create bubbles.

  6. Optional: turn off the lights and shine a flashlight under the cup to make it glow like an actual lamp!

the science

As you may remember from the last lesson, all matter is made of different types of atoms. Depending on the size, mass, and arrangement of these atoms, different substances will have different densities (which is used to determine how much matter is in something based on its size).

In order for liquids to mix, they must either both be polar or nonpolar. Water and corn syrup are both polar, so they mixed when you shook the jar really hard. However, oil is nonpolar, so it does not mix with either.

Taking it further

Try mixing different types of liquids with water to determine what is polar and non-polar, and which liquids are denser and less dense than water!

Inspired by ScientificAmerican

Special thanks to Emily Deng for the Spanish translation

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