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Oil and Water Experiments to do at Home

This article was featured in the July 26, 2019 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Oil and Water Experiments to do at Home

Oil and water "lava lamp" mentioned in the article. Photo by Sara Thompson.

Oil and Water Experiments to do at Home


By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise



Many of you may remember the lava lamps invented in 1963 by Edward Craven Walker.  They used an incandescent light bulb to heat wax, which would then float up through the water, and them float back down as the wax blob cooled, only to heat up again on the bottom and start the process all over again.  You can create a similar visual effect at home, but without heat and using safe, everyday kitchen materials.


The materials you will need are: a clear drinking glass, water, food coloring (optional), ¼ C of vegetable oil, salt, measuring teaspoon.


Fill your glass ¾ full of water.  If you would like to add food coloring, do so now, about 5 drops is all you need.  Red or yellow color is suggested, as the blues and greens can make the water too dark to see the experiment.  Next, slowly, pour the ¼ C of vegetable oil into the cup.  You’ll notice that the vegetable oil floats on top of the water instead of mixing, this is because the oil is less dense than the water.


Now comes the fun part! Using your measuring teaspoon, sprinkle some salt on top of the oil.  You can add more than one spoonful at a time, but try not to pour too much in at a time.  The salt is heavier than the oil, so it will start to sink, taking some oil with it, which creates a blob, reminiscent of the classic lava lamps of the 1960’s and 70’s. As the salt dissolves, the oil will float back up to the top, because it is again, less dense than the water and will float.


Another simple experiment with oil in water only needs a bowl or shallow pan, vegetable or baby oil, small cups, water, food coloring, and a pipette or dropper.  Pour the vegetable or baby oil into the bowl or pan.  Add water and food coloring to the small cups. Use the pipette or dropper to pick up some water with food coloring and make drops into the pan with the oil. Because of the separate densities, the water will remain as a ball and sink to the bottom of the oil pan.  You can add as much water as you like and it will not mix with the oil, but the water may mix with itself in the bottom of the bowl.


Both of these experiments are fun, simple, and colorful for scientists of all ages, and are frequent experiments used in our Crazy Chemistry birthday parties we offer at Explorit on weekends. Would your child like to have a science-based birthday party?  For more information see call 530-756-0191



Explorit's coming events:


  • Visit Explorit's latest exhibition, Earth Explorations. Explorit'sExploration Galleryis open to the public every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.





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