Tie-Dye Milk Experiment: Learn Chemistry in Your Kitchen

Learn about molecules and more with this tie-dye milk experiment

Make a rainbow of colors swirl around with materials you can find in your kitchen and a dash of science!

 

Atoms and molecules are the particles that makeup everything. What element or elements they are, how they’re arranged, how they move, and how they interact with each other determines how a substance looks, acts and reacts. However, atoms and molecules are very, very small. You could line up 70 million helium atoms in a row across a pencil eraser!

 

This makes them way too small to see with our own eyes or even with many microscopes. But we can observe molecules in motion with this tie-dye milk experiment.

Materials you will need:

  • Milk or cream
  • Food coloring
  • Cotton swabs or toothpicks
  • Dish soap
  • A dish or plate with a rim that can hold liquid.

Directions:

Step 1: First, add some milk or cream to your dish. You want to make sure the milk completely covers the bottom of the dish, but you don’t need to completely fill it.

A dish of milk for tie dye milk experiment

Step 2: Next, add 4 drops of food coloring to the center of the dish, being careful not to let them mix. Don’t stir the milk and food coloring! You want them to stay separate for now.

Add dye to milk

Step 3: Pick up your cotton swab or toothpick. Carefully cover one end of it with dish soap.

Add dish soap to a qtip to create tie-dye milk effect

Step 4: When you’re ready, touch the center of the milk with the soapy end of your swab and watch the colors move!

The result of tie-dye milk experiment

The Science of Tie-Dye Milk

  • Milk is a mixture. It’s mostly water, but it also has proteins, fats, and other molecules mixed in.
  • Because milk is mostly made up of water, it acts a lot like water and has many of the same properties.
  • One of these properties is called surface tension. Surface tension is how resistant a liquid is to external force, or how strong the surface of the liquid is. It’s a bit like the surface of water having a sort of “skin.” This is how some insects can walk on water.
  • Soap is what we call a surfactant. It lowers the surface tension of a liquid.
  • When we dip the soap in the milk, it lowers its surface tension and causes not just the water molecules, but fat and protein molecules, to move as they quickly rearrange themselves.
  • By adding food coloring, we can see the movement caused by lowering the surface tension.

Expand on This Activity:

  • Ask Your Scientist the Following Questions:
    • What new colors do you see?
    • How are the colors moving?
    • Why do you think this happened?
  • Keep Experimenting:
    • Press down on the bottom of the dish with the soap-covered cotton swab for three seconds, then lift up. How is the movement of the colors different than when you quickly touch the cotton swab to the milk’s surface?
    • Touch the cotton swab to areas where the colors have collected to watch the colors continue to move.
    • Try the experiment with more or fewer colors of food coloring. How is the tie-dye different?

The Science of Tie-Dye Milk

  • Milk is a mixture. It’s mostly water, but it also has proteins, fats, and other molecules mixed in.
  • Because milk is mostly made up of water, it acts a lot like water and has many of the same properties.
  • One of these properties is called surface tension. Surface tension is how resistant a liquid is to external force, or how strong the surface of the liquid is. It’s a bit like the surface of water having a sort of “skin.” This is how some insects can walk on water.
  • Soap is what we call a surfactant. It lowers the surface tension of a liquid.
  • When we dip the soap in the milk, it lowers its surface tension and causes not just the water molecules, but fat and protein molecules, to move as they quickly rearrange themselves.
  • By adding food coloring, we can see the movement caused by lowering the surface tension.

Learn More: Chemistry

  • Many atoms and molecules have positive (+) or negative (-) charges. An atom or molecule with no charge is called neutral. Positive and negatively charged atoms attract, just like the north and south poles of a magnet.
  • Molecules can be polar or nonpolar. Polar molecules have one side that is much more positive or negative than the other. Nonpolar molecules don’t have a difference in charge. Polar molecule likes to mix with other polar molecules, and nonpolar molecules like mix with other nonpolar molecules. Polar and nonpolar molecules don’t mix. This is what keeps oil and water separate; oil is made of nonpolar molecules and water is made of polar molecules!
  • Water molecules have a positive side and negative side. This makes water a polar molecule. Because of this, water molecules can stick to each other. Molecules in liquid sticking to each other is known as cohesion. The cohesion between the water molecules at the surface is what creates surface tension.
  • Soap molecules have a negative side and neutral side, so it has both a polar and nonpolar end. The negative side of the soap molecule is attracted to the positive side of the water molecule, weakening the attraction between the water molecules and lowering the surface tension.
  • But that’s not all. The neutral sides of the soap molecules also interact with the nonpolar fat molecules, separating them out of the milk. This is how soap is able to clean up greasy messes!

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DIY pH Indicators: Turn Your Kitchen Into a Chemistry Lab!

Turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab by making your own DIY pH Indicators!

pH is a measurement of how acidic or basic something is on a scale of 0-14. 

 

Testing how acidic or basic something is with a color-changing indicator is a staple of many chemistry experiments. Now you can try it too! Turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab with DIY pH indicators!

 

A substance with a pH of 7 (like distilled water) is neutral. A substance with a pH of less than 7 is an acid. The closer the number gets to zero, the stronger the acid is. A substance with a pH of more than 7 is a base. The closer the number is to 14, the stronger the base is.

 

Try making one of these two natural DIY pH indicators and use it to test the pH of things you find around your home!

 

Recommend Age: 8+ with adult help for chopping and boiling.

Materials you will need for a red cabbage pH indicator:

  • Red cabbage
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Warm water
  • Blender
  • Strainer or funnel with coffee filter
  • Container to collect indicator


WARNING: Cabbage and blueberry juices can stain clothes! Mess-friendly play clothes or coverings such as aprons are recommended for this activity.

You can can make a variety ph indicators with Orlando Science Center

Directions for making red cabbage pH indicator:

STEP 1
  • Peel 3 or 4 big leaves off a head of red cabbage and chop the leaves into small pieces.
  • Fill a blender halfway with hot water.
  • Add the chopped cabbage leaves to the blender.
  • Blend the leaves and water on high until the liquid turns purple and all the leaves are blended.

    *Alternatively, you can boil the chopped leaves in just enough water to cover them for a few minutes, then let steep for 30-60 minutes.

Red cabbage for DIY pH indicators
STEP 2 
  • Place a strainer or funnel lined with a coffee filter over a container to collect the indictor, such as bowl, pot, or bottle.
  • Pour the mixture through the strainer to remove the cabbage pulp.
  • Push down on the pulp in the strainer with a spoon or spatula to squeeze out more liquid.
strain blended cabbage for purple diy ph indicator
STEP 3
  • The purple liquid in your container is your indicator solution. The exact color will vary depending on the pH of the water you used.
  • Experiment with the indicator using the ideas below!
  • Red cabbage indicator can be saved in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Result of blending red cabbage to create diy ph indicator

Materials you will need for a blueberry pH indicator:

  • 200g blueberries
  • Masher, spoon, or spatula to mash blueberries
  • Water
  • Pot
  • Strainer or funnel with coffee filter
  • Container to collect indicator

Directions for making blueberry pH indicator:

STEP 1
  • Mash the blueberries in a bowl or pot to release the blueberry juice.
  • Add mashed blueberries, juice, and a half cup of water to a pot.
  • Boil the blueberries for 5-10 minutes. The blueberry juice will turn red-purple.
Mash and boil blueberries to make a blue DIY ph indicator
STEP 2
  • Place a strainer or funnel lined with a coffee filter over a container to collect the indictor.
  • Pour the mixture through the strainer to remove the blueberry skins.
  • Push down on the skins in the strainer with a spoon or spatula to squeeze out more liquid.
  • The purple liquid in your container is your indicator solution. The exact color will vary depending on the pH of the water you used.
result of using blueberries to make another diy ph indicator

What to do with your DIY pH indicators 

Now that you have your pH indicators, it's time to get to testing! Use household liquids such as salt or distilled water, different fruit juices, milk, liquid detergent or soap, and more!

  • Add each of the substances you would like to test to the cups. (Only add one substance to each cup.) 
  • Add a spoonful of indicator to the first cup, and stir the indicator into the substance.
  • Observe the color changes. What do you see? Encourage your scientist to write down what color each substance turns. You can use crayons or markers to help keep track of color changes.
You can use different household liquids to test you DIY indicators

Expand on the Activity:

  • What color changes did you see? Did you notice any patterns?
  • If you use vinegar or lemon juice, what do you think will happen to the color of the DIY pH indicator if you add baking soda or an antacid tablet

  • For another hands-on chemistry experiment, try making your own STEM slime activity

The Science: pH and pH indicators

  • pH is a measurement of how acidic or basic something is. It is measured on a scale of 0-14.
  • A substance with a pH of 7 (like distilled water) is neutral. A substance with a pH of less than 7 is an acid. The closer the number gets to zero, the stronger the acid is. A substance with a pH of more than 7 is a base. The closer the number is to 14, the stronger the base is.
  • Strong acids and bases can be very dangerous, while weaker acids and bases (those with a pH close to 7) are safer to use.
  • We find acids in many of the foods we eat, as well as in our stomachs. Acids found in foods give them a sour taste.
  • Bases are commonly found in cleaning products and antacid medications. Bases feel slippery and are rare in food because they taste bitter. For reference, think about the taste of soap!
  • pH indicators are compounds that change color in the presence of an acid or a base.
  • Different pH indicators have different ranges. Some may only be able to show whether something is acidic or basic, while others may have a wide range of colors that can show different strengths of acids and bases. Some may be better for showing the pH of acids, while others may be better at showing the pH of bases. In a lab, the best indicator to use depends on the pH range you want to see.

Learn More: Chemistry

  • There are several different definitions of acids and bases in chemistry.
  • A simple chemical definition of an acid is a substance that releases hydrogen ions (H+) when dissolved in water. A simple chemical definition of a base is a substance that makes hydroxide ions (OH-) when dissolved in water or a substance that takes hydrogen ions from an acid.
  • Ions are positively (+) or negatively (-) charged particles of an element.
  • Many red, purple, and blue plants contain chemicals called anthocyanins, which are weak acids that dissolve in water and change color in response to changes in pH. Because of this, plants with anthocyanins like red cabbage and blueberries can easily be made into pH indicators.

Did you make and test your own indicator? We’d love to see how it turned out! Snap a photo of you making or experimenting with your indicator and submit it to our Science Showcase here or use #OSCatHome on social media!

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Make Avocado Dye to Upcycle T-Shirts

Did you know that you could make avocado dye at home out of your guacamole scraps?

Avocados have a special tannin, an acid present in plants, that turns fabric to beautiful a beautiful pale pink or peach color. This tannin acts as a mordant, or fixative, that helps the dye to stick to the fabric fibers. Learn how to extract tannin from the pit and skin of avocados to make your own fabric dye!  

Materials you will need:

  • Skins and pits of two avocados
  • A large stainless steel pot
  • Heat safe container (bowl, basin, pot)
  • A strainer or sieve
  • A clean white t-shirt (you could also use a bandana, scarf, tank top, whatever you like – just make sure it’s a natural fabric for best results)
  • Optional: gloves for handling dyed fabric (you can also just wash your hands afterwards!)
Avocado skin and pit pieces on cutting board

Directions:

  • Rinse the avocado off your pits & stones. You don’t need to be too thorough with this - the strainer will take care of any avocado pieces that are left behind.
  • Heat water on low heat in your stainless steel pot, enough for your pits & skins to float in. Just heat – don't boil! Be very careful as boiling will turn your dye brown.
Rinsing Avocado Pit Piece
  • Drop the pits into the water. Tear up the skins & drop them in. Don’t forget to remove any stickers!
  • Cover & let the water simmer on low heat. Check on it frequently. If the water is starting to bubble, lower the heat.
Avocado Pieces In Pot
  • Check on the water for color. Because plants vary & tap water can have different minerals in it, the time you will need to extract the tannin will vary as well – somewhere between 30 & 60 minutes.

  • Once you’re happy with the color, strain the dye into a heat safe container.

Straining Avocado Pieces
  • Repeat steps 2 – 6 with the same avocado pieces to make another batch. Do this as many times as you need until you have enough dye to submerge your t-shirt.

Avocado Pieces Recooking
  • Submerge your white shirt into the dye. You can either put a lid on your container to keep it warm or leave it out in the sun.
Submerging T-shirt In Dye
  • Let it sit! Leave your shirt in the dye for at least an hour. You can leave it overnight if you want a deeper color.

Avocado Shirt Dyeing In Tub
  • Remove your shirt & rinse it in cold water. You can let it air dry or throw it in the dryer by itself.

Avocado Shirt Rinsing In Sink
  • Admire your handiwork! You now have a fabulous new shirt made with natural dye.

Dyed T-Shirt

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Create Your Own Dinosaur Fossils With Items Found In Your Kitchen!

How do you make a dinosaur fossil? Well, say you had your own dinosaur, first you’d have to bury it in layers and layers of dirt. Then, make sure there are no pockets in the sediment where air and water can reach the rock, and then wait tens of thousands of years. Voilà! You have fossilized dinosaur bones and teeth!

 

Now, no one has tens of thousands of years to wait around, or a dinosaur for that matter. But, even if you made a time machine and traveled back in time to the Jurassic period to find a dinosaur and give it time to fossilize, something could still go wrong. The bones could be too fragile, destroyed by air or water, or uncovered too early.

 

So, the bad news is it’s really hard to make your own real fossils. But don’t worry! Our paleontology enthusiasts at Orlando Science Center have put together a DIY experiment to make your own model fossils at home with items you already have in your kitchen!

 

To make your own fossils at home, you will need:

  • 1 cup of used coffee grounds
  • ½ cup cold coffee
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup of salt
  • Wax paper
  • Mixing bowls
  • Small objects (small toy dinosaurs, seashells, starfish, etc.) to make impressions
  • An empty can, a butter knife, or a cookie cutter

Directions: 

  1. Brew a small amount of coffee (or make a little extra in the morning) and save the grounds. Allow the coffee to cool.
  2. Mix the coffee grinds, flour, and salt together in a bowl. Slowly add the coffee bit by bit and mix with the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a dough. The amount of coffee you need depends on how wet the coffee grounds are.
  3. Scoop the dough out onto the wax paper. Knead for 3-4 minutes, until the dough holds its shape and becomes less sticky.
  4. Use the can to cut out circles out of the dough. You can also use cookie cutters or a butter knife to cut out fun shapes.
  5. Press the small objects firmly into the dough to create an imprint. Remove the object.
  6. You can use a toothpick to poke a small hole near the edge of the fossil. After the fossil has dried, you can add string and hang it.
  7. Bake at 200°F for 45 minutes. Larger or thicker fossils may take longer to completely harden.

 

 

Once you've made your own fossils, share your photos on social media in our Facebook Member Community using #OSCMember, tag us on Instagram, or email sciencelive@osc.org

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In these ever-changing times, it is our pleasure to adapt quality Orlando Science Center experiences to engage with everyone while they are safe at home. Please consider supporting our operating fund to ensure we can continue developing resources today and well into the future. Thank you for your generosity and support!