Making a Mess in our MakerSpace: Fireworks in a Jar and a Poor Man’s Lava Lamp

We do a MakerSpace session every week with our school-aged library kids. For whatever reason, this is not a program I typically lead, so I always get a little nervous when it’s my turn. I wanted to do something STEM-y and science experiment-y as opposed to artsy and craftsy, so I started searching for inexpensive and easy-to-execute science experiments. After some searching and clicking, I found a website called I Can Teach My Child, run by a former teacher and current mom. Two projects seemed doable: Fireworks in a Jar and a Lava Lamp experiment. I like that Jenae, who runs the site, breaks down not only how to do the experiment but also the science behind it.

I had a fairly small group, thankfully, because these experiments have the potential to get messy and out of hand. Thanks to Emma from Miss Print for taking pictures! She is the best workplace buddy.

First, we tried the Fireworks in a Jar experiment, which used a jar (I knew I saved Classico jars for a reason!), water, oil, and food coloring. We talked about how water and oil don’t mix, how the oil will rise to the top, and the food coloring will sink to the bottom. Jenae says it much more eloquently:

Food coloring dissolves in water but not in oil.   Because the oil is less dense than the water, it will float at the top.  The colored droplets will begin to sink because they are heavier than the oil.  Once they sink into the water, they will begin dissolving into the water (which looks like a tiny explosion).

Here’s how we did it:

We put a plop of Canola oil on a plate and added a couple of drops of food coloring:

Then we used a plastic fork to scramble the dye and oil, noting that the dye doesn’t really mix in the oil, it just breaks down into smaller pieces:
Then we carefully poured the dye-oil mixture into the jar of water: 
And watched what happened!

photo 1 (5)
photo 4 (4)

Kinda rad, huh? It also looks like the blue washed out of the back of my hair. I need to get on that.

Next we attempted the lava lamp experiment, which uses plastic bottles, oil, water, food coloring, and Alka Seltzer, which I made clear was not for eating. First we added the oil to the water, once again noticing that the oil rises to the top:

Then we added some food coloring (just one color for this one, otherwise it turns murky):


Then you drop in a quarter of an Alka Seltzer:

And then watch the carbon dioxide-filled bubbles do their thing. Lava lamp-y!

Jenae explains the science behind this:

Both the water and the food coloring sink to the bottom of the bottle while the oil floats at the top because water is heavier than oil.  The food coloring dissolves in the water but not in the oil.  When you drop the piece of Alka-Seltzer into the bottle, it reacts with the water and creates carbon dioxide gas bubbles.  Because the food coloring has already dissolved into the water, the bubbles are “colored” and float to the top!  Once they ‘pop’, the colored bubbles sink back to the bottom of the bottle.

The kids in the program wanted to show their lava lamps to as many people as they could, so we took our bottles out to the rest of the library (the fireworks in a jar are less portable). The kids walked to each table in the library, asking other kids and adults if the could show them their science projects. The kids explained the science behind their experiments and then, because the effect of the Alka Seltzer only lasts about 30 seconds or so, added new tablets to the mixture. The adults were impressed, and it made more kids want to come up to the program room and try it out themselves.

I made take-home handouts for the kids and adults so they could try these experiments at home.

I ended up splattering some of the oil-dye mixture on my dress, but, overall it was very worth it.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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3 thoughts on “Making a Mess in our MakerSpace: Fireworks in a Jar and a Poor Man’s Lava Lamp

  1. Erin

    I did fireworks in a glass with my preschool science program and the kids loved it. Well, who am I kidding I loved it too. Very fun experiment. Just goes to show that you can do a lot of neat stuff with things you have lying around the house. Don’t always have to have the latest and greatest technology to experiment and learn new things.

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