HOW TO: Christmas Chromatography

December 10, 2008

Crayola Washable markers
Large coffee filters
Spray bottle with water
Newspaper to cover your work area

What to do:
1. Cut fun Christmas shapes out of coffee filters. Stars, angels, or snowmen are great ideas.
2. Make large dots (about an inch in diameter) on the coffee filter shape using the washable markers. Place the dots about an inch apart.
3. Place your coffee filter shape flat on a pile of newspaper and squirt it with the spray bottle until the entire filter is damp.
4. Wait five minutes and observe what happens to the dots you made!
5. Allow your filter to dry.
6. Punch a hole in your filter and tie a ribbon through to hang it on your Christmas tree.

What’s going on here?
Different colors make up ordinary ink. Colored dyes can be separated when dissolved in a liquid like water. This process is called chromatography. Different dye mixtures are used to make various inks. When you spray water on the filter paper it dissolves the dyes in the ink. The dissolved dyes move through the filter paper by capillary action and form color patterns. Did some of your colors travel further on the filter paper than others? Can you design an experiment and see?

Part three of the series: How To: Marvelous Marbled Ornaments

Authored By Kat Havens

As a native Houstonian Kathleen has watched HMNS change and grow over the decades. Her life-long love of cultures and all things rocks and minerals brought her back to HMNS after several years away. Well versed in almost all things museum as an employee and volunteer her goal is to share her love of learning with anyone who will stop long enough to listen (or read).

7 responses to “HOW TO: Christmas Chromatography”

  1. Erin M. says:

    COOL! These are great ideas Kat!

  2. Jamie says:

    I made one at home and the lights behind the tree made it have the same effect as stained glass; very cool!

  3. DAN says:

    Awesome write-up, really! I really love this time of the year! Snowman and Cookie – Yah!

  4. ALEXANDER says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post! I really can’t belive it’s almost Christmas. Sants and cookies here I come!

  5. Darla says:

    I really like these. I never thought to use these as christmas ornaments. I recently did a color chromatography post and podcast (episode number 3) on my blog and I used fabric, non washable markers, and rubbing alcohol. I drew pictures and designs and instead of using a spray bottle, used a paintbrush to guide the alcohol, which gives a totally different effect than the spray bottle. But I DO love the spraybottle design you have here! I am really looking for ideas that relate science to my new love – quilting – but I appreciate all sorts of ‘sciency crafts’. Any further designs or ideas that you would like to share, I would be willing to post and podcast about! Happy holidays!

  6. Kathleen HAvens says:

    Thanks guys! Keep checking back for more fun ideas!

  7. Brian says:

    Can’t wait to try these out!

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