Design a Lava Lamp
Shared by: UT Austin Center for Dynamics and Control of Materials, an NSF MRSEC
Recommended Grades: 3rd, 4th, 5th grades
The Challenge: Create a lava lamp using oil and water. To create the lava lamp effect, you will learn how a chemical reaction generates the lava lamp effect. You can use items such as alka-seltzer tablets, oil, water, a glass jar, and a flashlight to design your own custom lava lamp. Items like food coloring and glitter can be used to give your lava lamp a unique touch. At the end, you can shine a flashlight into the lava lamp to fully enjoy watching the colored water and oil! Can you figure out the science behind the lava lamp? Key questions to think about: Why don't the oil and water mix? What happens when you drop in the alka seltzer tablet? Why does the mixture start bubbling?
Video your creation and share on Flipgrid.
Recommended Materials: Glass jar, napkins, alka-seltzer tablets, cooking oil, water, and food coloring
Watch the video below for an introduction and an overview of the supplies:
Lava Lamp Experiment Set-up - Watch the video below for instructions to create your lava lamp:
After the experiment, share a video of your lava lamp creation on Flipgrid.
Head to the Activity Video Tab to learn more about the science behind your lava lamp from UT Austin Center for Dynamics and Control of Materials scientists and engineers.
How does this activity connect to STEM and today's Girl Day theme of Moving Around: Exploring Earth and Energy? Students will start off observing how water and oil do not mix and begin to question, how does this relate to the everyday world. The majority of our world consists of water; hence, our Earth has developed things such as plants, humans, animals, and insects to be dependent on water. Students are able to further explore this idea by adding food coloring, a man-made item we are able to consume, that is soluble in water, but not oil. Why isn’t the food coloring soluble in the oil? Students can begin to think about key terms such as hydrophobic and hydrophilic and relate them to the lava lamp. In return, students can begin to look around the world and think about how the items we consume for energy and survival are all water-based. With the use of the alka-seltzer tablet, students will observe how matter is always conserved. For instance, the tablet will begin to disappear to the eye and change into a different form, gas! Please watch this video for more of the science behind lava lamps.
Please watch this video below to learn more about the Science Behind Your Lava Lamp. Be sure to wait to watch this video until you've created and experimented with your lava lamp.
About the Center
The Center for Design and Control of Materials (CDCM) is a Materials Science Research Center funded through the National Science Foundation. Public outreach and education of the K-12 community is central to overarching vision of CDCM. It is the goal of the CDCM K-12 program, known as STUFF, to educate teachers, students and parents on materials science, dynamics and the control of materials. This outreach will excite students about science and technology, teach them fundamental concepts, illustrate the endless career possibilities available to them through a materials-based science degree, and above all, foster a love of discovery and innovation.
Core STUFF programs and initiatives:
- Strategic School Partnerships
- Science Academies in Underserved Schools
- Educational School Visits
- Fieldtrips to CDCM labs
- Teacher Professional Development Days
- Research Experiences for Teachers Program
- Community Outreach events like Explore UT & Girl Day