STEAM Saturday – Leaf Color Experiment! (9-30-2023)

Leaf Chromatography for Kids

Leaf Color Chromatography ExperimentHappy Fall, Y’all! This week, we welcomed one of our favorite seasons, and of course, we found a STEAM activity to help us celebrate the arrival of autumn. Today, we’re going to practice chromatography – the process of using a solvent to pull the colors from an object. The leaves are starting to turn beautiful colors, so we’ll be doing leaf chromatography to see just how many colors might be in every leaf!

So, what will we need to “fall” into some STEAM fun?

  • Chromatography paper (coffee filters or paper towels will also work as an alternative)
  • Rubbing alcohol (you can also use nail polish remover or vinegar, but the results won’t be as exciting)
  • Clothespins
  • Pencils
  • Small mason jars
  • Scissors
  • A large pot
  • Mortar and pestle (optional)
  • …and lots of autumn leaves, of course!

Leaf ChromatographyFirst, cut your leaves into smaller pieces. Separate the leaf pieces by color – green, yellow, red, orange, etc. Once you have your leaves separated, crush them even further. If you have a mortar and pestle, this is when you would use it. If not, a fork or spoon will help. After crushing the leaves, put each separate color into a mason jar and pour rubbing alcohol into the jar until the leaves are just covered.

Now, place your mason jars into a large pot filled with about 2 inches of water and let the water come to a boil. This heats the alcohol and helps the colors release from the leaves. Take the mason jars out of the water and store them in a dark place overnight. Good night, leaves – we will see you tomorrow!

The next day, take your mason jars out of the dark. Cut your chromatography paper (or coffee filters or paper towels into strips. You are going to place a pencil across the top of each jar and fasten the paper strip to it using the clothespins. When you do this, the paper strip should just barely be touching the alcohol. Be sure to take this into account when measuring how long your strips need to be.

Once the alcohol reaches the tops of the paper strips, remove them and set them out to dry. Don’t be discouraged if your colors are faded – they will develop as the paper dries! Once your paper is dry, have your child examine and identify all of the colors for each leaf. Hint: the number of colors will surprise you both!

Check out the full experiment and more of the science behind it from STEAMSational HERE.

As always, get as creative as you want, and above all, have lots of fun learning together!

We’ll see you right back here next Saturday for another STEAM Saturday activity!  Scroll through the rest of our website to learn how Critchlow Adkins is Building Brighter Futures for the children and families we serve!

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