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diy lava lampsWe just participated in the Champlain Mini Maker Faire at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.  IMG_2147[1]Are you familiar with the Maker Movement?  The Maker Movement celebrates a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) mindset – from arts and crafts to science and engineering.  There seems to be a focus on technology which is a great way to introduce kids to STEM or STEAM. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, math.)




There were great robotics demonstrations but our decidedly low-tech DIY lava lamps were incredibly popular.  Even the robotics club high-schoolers and adults loved them!

Lava Lamps – Great Science Project

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This project is a great opportunity for kids to learn about density, color mixing and the properties of carbon dioxide. Ask questions like:

  • Which liquid is on top? Why?
  • Why does it bubble?
  • How does the color bubble up through the oil?
  • Why do the color droplets not burst until they hit the water?

Everyone seemed fascinated about how they “worked” so we decided to write up a tutorial. A lot of teachers were interested in making the lava lamps in class and we talked about how you could break up the steps to accommodate multiple days of learning.  More than 100 kids made lava lamps at our event, so we bought our supplies in bulk but here are directions for making one lava lamp.  Just multiply the ingredients for however many makers you have.

diy lava lampSupplies Needed

  • Empty bottle with cap (12 oz water bottles work well.)
  • Oil (vegetable or baby oil)
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Alka Seltzer tablets broken into 3 or 4 pieces
  • Plastic funnel
  • Plastic or metal tray (or something to capture spills if they happen!)
  • Flashlight or other light source
  • Cleaning supplies (oil is slippery!)


Lava Lamp Directions

  • Using a funnel, fill the bottles 1/4 full with water.
  • Again, using a funnel, fill the remaining 3/4 of the bottle with oil.
  • Once the water and oil are separated, add 5-6 drops of food coloring.  You can adjust this as you like. The more the better, I think.
  • Watch the drops of oil float down through the oil.  They remain intact as they float down and it’s pretty fascinating to watch.  They’ll lay on the bottom layer of the oil until they break through to the water and the droplets of color burst and color the water.
  • Next, add a piece of the Alka Seltzer tablet.  The carbon dioxide brings up the color into the oil.  When the bubbling stops, just add another piece of the tablet.
  • Shine a flashlight through the side or bottom of the bottle.

diy lava lamp


Observations and Tips

  • We used vegetable oil. The vegetable oil worked well but it’s yellow in color so baby oil might be nicer since it is clear.
  • Let the oil and water completely separate, if you can.  This might be a good stopping place to let the bottle sit overnight.   You don’t have to wait for it to completely separate but it will be more visually powerful when you add the food coloring.
  • We had adults pour the water and oil. You can decide if you’d like to make this a pouring activity for kids.
  • Bottles size doesn’t matter unless you are trying to economize on oil (it can get expensive!) Most of ours were 12 oz which means 8-9 oz of oil per bottle. When we ran out of 12 oz bottles, we moved to 8 oz bottles.  They worked just as well as the 12 oz bottles.
  • Make sure the caps fit!
  • We used baking trays with a shallow lip to catch any spills. The shallow trays let little ones see their lamps.
  • Young children might need help putting the food coloring drops into the bottle.  Nearly every child was able to drop the Alka Seltzer pieces in.
  • Color mixing:  we found that yellow and red worked pretty well but red & blue did not. It ended up looking pretty muddy.
  • We used our lava lamp over and over again.  The oil started to look a little foggy.  Not sure if it was reuse or air temperature or humidity.  Don’t know if baby oil would have had a different effect.
  • To cap or not to cap?  We left the cap off during the bubbling process.  What would happen if you capped it right away?
  • Don’t forget clean up supplies – paper towels, wipes, etc.

Light up your Lava Lamp

IMG_2157[1]The kids loved the lava lamps in regular daylight but were amazed when we shone a light through the side.  One child told me later that she used it as a nightlight.

Our neighbors from the CVU Robohawks in Hinesburg, VT made us a light up base for our bottles.  They used a 3D printer to make it (took several hours) then, cut holes and put LED lights and a battery underneath.  Maker Power!!!

Your lava lamp will last forever.  Just add some alka seltzer when you’re ready to watch it in action.

Tornado TubeI’ve been talking about science toys and science experiments lately (see my posts on the Heron’s Fountain and Kaleidoscope) and wanted to share some tips on how to use the Tornado Tube.  This is about the least expensive science toy out there, it’s fun and you can use it to demonstrate a really important scientific principle.  The littlest ones will be amazed and older kids can use it as a launching pad to learn more about vortex action.  We’ve even had colleges use the Tornado Tube. It’s a great educational toy and it’s made in the USA!

What the Tornado Tube Does

tornado and tornado tubeYour Tornado Tube demonstrates a vortex action.  Examples of vortexes are tornadoes, whirlpools, waterspouts – really any similar fluid motion that happens when liquid or air drops through an opening. You can see it in the bathtub as the water drains, too.

How to Make the Tornado

tornado tubeYou’ll need:

  • 2 empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles
  • water
  • a Tornado Tube
  • food coloring (optional)
  • glitter (optional)
  • a drop or two of liquid dishwashing soap (optional)

Ready, set, go!

  • Partially fill (2/3 full) one of the 2-liter plastic soda bottles with water.
  • Add food coloring, glitter, soap or whatever you want.
  • Screw the bottles into opposite ends of the connector tube.
  • Tip the bottle so that the full bottle is on top.  Give the end of the full bottle a swirling rotational movement until you get the vortex going.

Call it a tornado if you’re a meteorologist, or a whirlpool if you’re into oceanography.

The science behind the Tornado Tube

The inventors of the Tornado Tube describe it this way:

The action is the concentration of kinetic energy (motion).   In the atmosphere, wind shear and thermals are the source of the energy which produces the vortex.  In liquids, such as water, the potential energy (mass) is converted to kinetic energy as it descends, pulled by gravity through an opening. A small initial rotation about the opening becomes more violent (higher rotational velocity) as the molecules come closer to the center. The resulting outward force tends to keep the liquid out of the exact center, maintaining a “hole” in the remaining liquid.

What vortexes in nature have you seen?


Photo credit: Foter / Public domain

Children can never have enough opportunities to learn about their world.  Science experiments help kids learn about the world around them.  Turner Toys is proud to carry a wide variety of science toys and kits that will spark your child’s interest in science and make your gift giving easier this year.

Here are some toys that explore optics, physics, gravity, engineering, aeronautics and more.


How does a radiometer work? It spins when the sun warms the dark vanes and is reflected by the white vanes. It’s the original demonstrator of the potential of solar energy.  I had one of these as a kids and liked seeing it go faster on sunny days.

Precision Gyroscope

GyroscopeThe original Gyroscope toy, defies gravity, demonstrates scientific principles, inertia, angular momentum, kinetic energy, physics. Watch it balance on the rim of a glass jar or tie it to a string and observe it hang at a right angle to the string.  Still made in the USA.

Refraction through Prism is easily demonstrated with this 2.5″ Crystal Prism. Natural sunlight is refracted into a full spectrum of colors – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. ROY G BIV is the mnemonic I learned to remember the correct colors in the correct order.

KaleidoscopeChildren’s Kaleidoscope will bring many hours of fun viewing different patterns. Kaleidoscope comes in a gift box.

Science Kits

Science kits guide children through experiments, provide all the materials and instruction needed so you don’t have to be the expert.
From the makers of Slinky:
Fingerprint Science KitPower Putty Science KitSlippery Slime Science Kit
Poof Slinky Fingerprint Files Science Kit  Everything needed to collect fingerprints using the same methods as the Police and FBI is included.

Poof Slinky Power Putty Slime Science Kit    Corn starch slime has met its match. Slime holds a special attraction for kids and this Poof Slinky Power Putty Slime Kit will let them make both bouncy and stretchable slime.

Poof Slinky Slippery Slimes Science Kit  Slime for kids because there is no such thing as too much slime. Slippery Slimes Science Kit lets kids make Sewer Slime (doesn’t smell like a sewer) and a slime that switches between being a solid and a liquid.

Here are four science kits that explore magnets, gears, physics, and recycling.


Magnet Lab Science Kit

Mag Lab Science Kit   Magnets are an endless source of fascination for kids. The Mag Lab Science Kit includes 12 great experiments to let young scientists explore the world of magnets.


Gear Lab Science Kit   The Gear Lab Science Kit has 4 fun experiments to teach children how gears work to multiply force or slow down the speed of a motor. Gear Science Kit

Egg Drop: Gravity & Physics

Egg Drop Science Kit  Egg drop test experiment made fun and easy with the Egg Drop Science Kit.  Kit includes 4 egg protecting contraptions (parachute drop, balloon armor, spine shield and straw cell).  Learn everything you need to keep an egg (not included) together when it hits the ground. Egg Drop science kit


Recycling Science Kit
Recycling Science Kit   Science projects like the Recycling Science Kit let kids explore what happens to the items you recycle. Make recycled paper, learn about different recycling codes, pledge to be a super recycler and make a water filter.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll feature other science toys such as 3-D and 4-D puzzles (engineering) and flying toys (aeronautics). What science toys or experiments did you like when you were a child?  I loved my chemistry set!

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