Colorful Coffee Filter Experiment: Defy Gravity with Capillary Action

See water flow upwards with this colorful coffee filter experiment!

Capillary action is the ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces. With capillary action, water can even flow upward against gravity!  You can observe capillary action all around you, for example, it's what moves the water up through plant roots and your tears through your tear ducts. 

 

It's hard to visualize but when you use our steps for this colorful coffee filter experiment to add an explosion of color, it will come together! Once your coffee filters have dried, you can use the them for other craft projects!

 

For more amazing experiments with water, see how you can freeze time through laminar flow

 

Materials:

  • Coffee filters
  • Markers
  • Water
  • A  small clear cup or glass

Directions:

STEP 1
  • Use the markers to draw all over the coffee filter.

    The more colors you use, the more vibrant your colorful coffee filter experiment will be.

STEP 2
  • Fold the coffee filter in half.  Then in half one more time.
colorful markers patterns drawn on coffee filters
STEP 3
  • Add enough water to the cup to just barely cover the bottom and set your coffee filter in the cup.

This will take a few minutes, so you can use this time to talk about capillary action or ask these questions to expand on the activity:

  1. How do the colors change as they move up the coffee filter?
  2. Do you see any colors mix? What new colors do you see?
  3. Did any colors disappear?
  4. Why do you think this is happening?
     
soak colorful coffee filters in water to see capillary action
STEP 4
  • Once the water has reached the top of the coffee filter or has stopped moving, remove your coffee filter from the cup and open it up!

 

STEP 5
  • Let your colorful coffee filter experiment dry and then upcycle it for your next maker project!
Wet colorful capillary coffee filters drying

Expand on the Activity:

  • What happens if you only use one color, like green or black? How does the color of the ink change as it spreads out? Why do you think this happens?
  • Once they’ve dried, the coffee filters can be used as colorful tissue paper in craft projects. Try making flowers, snowflakes, monsters, butterflies, or any other creation you can think of!

 

If you had fun learning about capillary action and snapped some photos, be sure to submit it to our Science Showcase here or tag Orlando Science Center and use #OSCatHome on social media! You might be featured on our channels. 

The Science: Capillary Action & Chromatography

  • Water molecules are “sticky.”
    • Water molecules like to stay close together because of a force called cohesion.
    • However, they also are attracted and like to stick to other substances, like glass, cloth, soil, and fibers. This is known as adhesion.
    • When there is more adhesion than cohesion (or when the water molecules stick the surrounding surfaces more than each other), capillary action occurs, causing the water molecules to move up or across the surface.
  • In your experiment, water uses this process to move along the tiny gaps in the fiber of the coffee filter. It will keep going up the filter until the pull of gravity is too much for it to overcome.
  • Where does capillary action occur in the real world?
    • Plants suck up water through their roots, and capillary action is what moves the water up through the roots and throughout the plants.
    • Your tears undergo capillary action to move through your tear ducts.
    • Capillary action is in play in sucking water up a straw.
  • As the water moves up the coffee filter, it dissolves the ink from the markers. The dissolved ink travels with the water and spreads out, coloring the coffee filter.

Learn More: Paper Chromatography

  • Inks are mixtures of many different-colored molecules. Paper chromatography separates out the molecules, showing all the individual colors.
  • How does this work?
  • A solvent (a liquid that dissolves a substance) is used is dissolve the ink. The most common solvents in paper chromatography are water and rubbing alcohol.
  • Through capillary action, the solvent keeps moving up the paper and carries the different molecules in the ink with it.
  • The different-colored molecules are also different sizes. Larger molecules move more slowly and not as far. Smaller molecules move more quickly and farther. The difference in molecule sizes causes the colors to separate.
  • Scientists use paper chromatography to separate colored pigments, to monitor reactions, to isolate and purify substances, to analyze food dyes, and to investigate evidence found at crime scenes.

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How to Make Marbleized Paper to Create Custom Cards and Artwork

Create a stunning masterpiece when you follow these step-by-step instruction for how to make marbleized paper – a sensory STEAM project for kids and adults alike!


It’s always fun to use materials in new ways, and this is likely one way you’ve never used shaving cream before! Use our directions for how make marbleized paper and follow along with the questions included to help you make observations as you create! Not only will you have a wall-worthy finished project, you'll also learn some neat STEM skills along the way. 

Materials:

  • Shaving cream 
  • Paper (start with a heavier weight paper, like cardstock or construction paper) 
  • Food coloring* or washable paint such as liquid watercolor or tempera paint
  • Popsicle sticks 
    (If you don’t have popsicle sticks, read the directions
    carefulland substitute in a different tool. Tooth picks are great for creating the marble effect and a ruler or spatula work well to remove the shaving cream from your paper at the end!)

 

*Warning: Food coloring can stain! If you're worried about mess, substitute washable paint. Either way, mess-friendly play clothes are recommended for this activity!

Material for how to make marbleized paper

Directions:

STEP 1
  • Spray some shaving cream onto protected work surface.
STEP 2 
  • Spread the shaving cream out so it’s about ½ an inch thick.  

    How does the shaving cream feel? Is it a liquid or a solid? Do your best to describe it. 
Spread shaving cream onto protected work surface
STEP 3
  • Add a few drops of food coloring on top of the shaving cream. Make sure you leave some space between each drop. 

    What do you observe as you drip the food coloring onto the shaving cream? Does it mix in? Does it sit on top? Sink to the bottom? Spread out flat? What do you see happening? 
Add dye to shaving cream make marbleized paper
STEP 4
  • Use a popsicle stick to drag the food coloring around on the top of the shaving cream, creating a marbled effect. 

    Do the colors mix with the shaving cream? Do they stay separate? Do they mix with each other? 
Swirl shaving cream colors together to make marbleized effect
STEP 5
  • When you’re happy with the marble you’ve created, place your paper on top of the shaving cream and food coloring and gently press down. Depending on how thick your paper is, you may see the marble start to show through the other side. Let it sit for about 5-10 seconds.  
STEP 6
  • Carefully remove your paper and place it shaving cream side up on a protected work surface. 
Place paper on shaving cream to create marbleized paper effect
STEP 7
  • Use a popsicle stick to very gently scrape the shaving cream off your paper. This will likely take a few passes and it may help to remove the shaving cream from your popsicle stick between each pass.

    The food coloring has soaked into your paper, leaving behind a marbled pattern! How is the design on your paper similar to the design you saw on your shaving cream? How is it different? 

STEP 8
  • Let your paper dry for a few minutes. Once dry, use a tissue or paper towel to brush off any leftover little bits of shaving cream.
Swirl shaving cream colors together to create marbleization

Display your marbleized paper with pride, or add it to a larger project! Be sure to share your mess-terpieces with us by submitting them to our Science Showcase here or tag Orlando Science Center and use #OSCatHome on social media! You might be featured on our channels. 

 

NOTE: It’s best to let the paper dry completely before cutting it or writing on it.

Expand on the Activity!

  • Try this again and try using more or less food coloring. How do your results change? 
  • Test out different kinds of paper. What happens when you try this with printer paper, newspaper, tissue paper, cardboard, or colored construction paper? What kind of paper works best? 
  • Experiment with making different shapes and patterns with the food coloring in the foam. How many different patterns can you make? 

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DIY Lava Lamp Experiment • Explore Density and Fizzy Reactions

Learn about density with this simple DIY Lava Lamp Experiment!

Density has to do with how much space something takes up in relation to what its mass is. While density can be a tricky concept for younger scientists to understand right away, this DIY lava lamp experiment is a great opportunity to observe density in action and make some initial observations while enjoying some fizzing good fun!

Materials:

  • Canola oil 
  • Measuring cup 
  • Water 
  • Tall, clear container (we used a clean salsa jar) 
  • Alka-Seltzer tablets (or any other effervescent tablets) 
  • Food coloring
    *Warning: Food coloring can stain! Feel free to substitute in washable paint such as liquid watercolor or tempera paint if you’re worried about mess. Either way, mess-friendly play clothes are recommended for this DIY lava lamp experiment!
Collection of experiment materials including a bottle of canola oil, a measuring cup of water, a tall clear container, Alka-Seltzer tablets, and a box of food coloring

Directions:

STEP 1
  • Fill your measuring cup with 1 cup water.
     
STEP 2
  • Add 10-15 drops of food coloring to your water then stir.

    Observe the food coloring drops as they enter the water. What do you notice? Do they float? Do they sink? Does the food coloring mix well into the water? What do you see?
Add drops of food coloring to cup of water
STEP 3
  • Fill a clear container ¾ of the way with canola oil.

STEP 4
  • Pour the dyed water into your clear container, along with your canola oil.

     
    What do you notice about the water and the canola oil?  Do they mix together?
    Which one sinks to the bottom? Is this the same as what you observed with the food coloring and water?

Mix dyed water with canola oil
STEP 6
  • Break up your effervescent tablets into several small pieces, drop them into your clear container one at a time, and enjoy the show!

     

    What happens when you add the effervescent tablets? Practice your observation skills and describe what you notice!

 

STEP 7
  • You can continue adding effervescent tablets as the bubbles slow.

     

Bubbles rise and fall in DIY lava lamp density experiment

Expand on the Activity:

  • Experiment with your effervescent tablets! What happens when you drop a full tablet in your lava lamp? What happens when you drop in several pieces at once? What happens if you crush your tablet into dust and then add it to your lamp?
  • Make something to remember your experiment! Drop several pieces of effervescent tablet into your lava lamp and cover the top with a piece of paper. As the bubbles pop, the food coloring will leave a surprise behind on the paper for you.
  • Looking for more fun with a fizz? Check out our Ice Chalk DIY Recipe!

 

If you had fun learning about fizz and snapped some photos, be sure to  submit it to our Science Showcase here or tag Orlando Science Center and use #OSCatHome on social media! You might be featured on our channels. 

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Un-Poppable Bubble Recipe

While blowing bubbles may be every child’s favorite activity, scientists actually study the science behind bubbles every day. Bubbles provide the opportunity to research science concepts such as elasticity, chemistry, light and even geometry!

 

If you’ve ever wondered why bubbles pop, you’re not alone. Other than being poked or landing on something sharp, bubbles pop when the water between the soap film surfaces evaporates. So if you’re blowing bubbles in Florida weather, they may pop quicker than if you were blowing them on a crisp winter day.

 

However, our bubble experts at Orlando Science Center have put together an at-home activity using chemistry to create an un-poppable bubble!

 

Ingredients:

  • A clean glass cup
  • 8 oz of distilled water – Minerals and particulate in normal tap water can hamper the making of larger bubbles, but it can still work if you don’t have distilled.
  • One tablespoon of dish soap – Any type is fine!
  • 0.5 Tablespoon glycerin –  This is what strengthens your bubbles!

 

Steps:

  • Step 1 – Stir all of your ingredients together in the glass cup.
  • Step 2 – Wait! Let the bubble solution sit for 24 hours.
    • Why is time so important? It allows the glycerin to fully mix together with the other ingredients. The glycerin is important for keeping the water from evaporating from your bubble and prematurely popping it.
  • Step 3 – Once your bubble solution is done sitting, put on some gloves and attempt to bounce your bubbles in the palm of your hand!

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