Earth is one creative and amazing place. An example of this is the cool texture of lava, which we can enjoy safely through lava lamps! Let’s get into the instructions for making your own lava lamp.
Lava lamps were all the rage in the 1960s, and they’re still pretty popular today! They might be called lamps, but they don’t necessarily light up a whole room like regular lamps do. For the most part, they’re just really fun to look at!
If you’re searching for easy projects to do with your kids, making a DIY lava lamp might just be up your alley. Not only is it one of the easiest kids’ crafts to do, but there are interesting scientific concepts behind how lava lamps work. By making your own lava lamp, you get to enjoy different ribbons of color while being able to teach your kids about density and intermolecular polarity.
The best thing about making a DIY lava lamp is that they look great and don’t need a lot of materials. In fact, you can make them with stuff you can find around your house! Here’s what you need for your DIY lava lamp project:
- Vegetable oil
- Food coloring
- Container or flask like an empty water bottle
- Alka-seltzer tablet
Now that you have all your materials on hand, you can start making your own homemade lava lamp! For those who don’t have alka-seltzer tablets, you can substitute these with a mixture of two parts baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and one part citric acid. When dropped in your lava lamp mixture, this will produce the same carbon dioxide bubbles as effervescent antacid tablets.
Making your DIY lava lamp can be accomplished in five easy steps:
- Step 1: Fill your chosen container with vegetable oil around three-fourths of the way. Other types of cooking oil or baby oil can also work just as well.
- Step 2: Fill the rest of the container with water. You’ll notice that the water sinks to the bottom and the oil stays on top, looking like small clear blobs.
- Step 3: Add a few drops of food coloring. Any choice of color will do, but the brighter the color, the more exciting your lava lamp will look! Just like the water, the food coloring will also sink.
- Step 4: Break a chunk of alka-seltzer into small pieces. Drop the tablet pieces inside the container one by one.
- Step 5: This is the fun part: you can now watch the colorful bubbles rise and pop as they react to the alka-seltzer! When the bubbling stops, just add more pieces of the antacid tablet into your lava lamp. You can also replace the bottle cap and shake, twist, or tip the bottle in different directions.
You and your kids might be wondering — how did all those cool molecular reactions take place? There’s a simple science to how homemade lava lamps work, and it’s mostly about the polarity and density differences between water and oil molecules.
To understand how this works, let’s brush up on some basic science terms; density is how compact a substance is. In this case, water molecules have a higher density than oil molecules. This is why water sank to the bottom of the container.
On the other hand, polarity is what keeps the water and oil from mixing. Water molecules are polar, which means they have electrical charges. This works similarly to a magnet. One end of the molecule with two hydrogen atoms has a positive charge while the other end has a negative charge. Oil has nonpolar molecules. They have neither positive nor negative ends. This keeps them from connecting with the water droplets.
Since we used an alka-seltzer tablet, which lowers stomach acid, this produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles that stick to the blobs of water. The gas bubbles rise because they’re less dense than oil. When they reach the top, the gas bubbles pop and escape into the air. This causes the water to sink back to the bottom.
What was your favorite part of making this DIY lava lamp? Is it watching the food coloring sink, or is it waiting in anticipation just before dropping the alka-seltzer tablets? Either way, lava lamps rock, and your kids are going to love this activity!