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Fireworks and Filters

Exploring Chromatography

1507_KCD_1Have you ever wondered why your white shirt or socks turned pink in the laundry? Oops! How did that red towel get in there? Our clothes are colored using different combinations of dyes to get the perfect color. We can use paper chromatography, which separates mixtures into their components, to help us separate out the mixtures of dyes that create the colors in our clothes, in our markers, in our paints, and more. Let’s do science!


What you need:1507_KCD_2

• White coffee filters

• Washable markers


• Clear cups or glasses

• Paper towels, plate (for drying), placemat or plastic tablecloth


1507_KCD_3What you do

Part One:

1.Cover the spot you’re working on with a placemat or plastic tablecloth.

2.Space dots of color around the flat center of the coffee filter.

3.Fold or squish your coffee filter together so it has a point.

4.Fill a cup with just enough water to cover the point of your coffee filter.

5.Dip your coffee filter in and hold it there so that the water in the glass begins to travel up the filter (from 2 to 5 minutes).

6.Watch as the dots you’ve created explode with colors.

7.Place your coffee filter on a plate to dry or hang it somewhere to dry.

Part Two:

8.Cut another coffee filter in half and fold or twist it to make a wick.

9.Poke a hole in a filter you’ve colored, feed the wick through the hole, then stick the wick in the water while the colored filter stays in the glass on top or above the water.

10.You might also try adding color to your wick in one of your trials.


What happened? Is there a difference between using and not using a wick? Time it! How long before the colors explode? Did certain colors blend to make other colors?

Science Museum of Virginia
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