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The ink that we use in pens and markers is made up of several different pigments acting in unison. Chromatography is a process of separating a mixture, whether into a vapor or different components. We can see this process in action with this experiment and create a beautiful craft project in the process. 

What You’ll Need: 

  • Coffee Filters
  • Washable markers
  • Water dropper
  • Paper plates or newspapers
  • LED string lights and battery
  • Scissors
  • Green tape
  • A solo cup
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Clothespins

What To Do: 

  1. Lay out the newspapers and paper plates to make your workspace, then flatten out the coffee filters.
  2. Use the washable markers to draw a few different lines and circles on the coffee filters. Draw anything you like but remember to keep a few centimeters of space between each line for when the ink separates.
  3. Using the water dropper, start dropping bits of water onto the coffee filter. As the filter dampens, the water spreads and bleeds out the colors. Which colors separate? Which do not?
  4. Allow the coffee filters to dry completely before the next steps.
  5. Roll the coffee filters into a cone-like shape, wrapping them around some of the LED lights. Secure with clothespins and green tape like the stalk of a flower.
  6. Cut a hole in the back of the solo cup and feed the LED light plug through it – this way the cup can stand upright while being close to the outlet.
  7. Place each flower cone within the solo cup and arrange as desired.
Chromatography staining was first used in 1903 by a Russian Botanist named Mikhail Tswett. Since then, the practice has become invaluable to labs as a way to study separated compounds.

What is Happening

As the water hits the ink, it will cause different pigments to spread across the paper. This is the solution being separated. See what colors make up your favorites, and which colors tend to spread more! Try this with other types of ink too to see what results you get. Does a higher density ink bleed more or less?

Want to learn more?

My First Lab has been a leader in developing STEM equipment for the past 30 years. With products ranging from microscopes and bundles to prepared slides and accessories, we are sure to have any product for the junior investigator, hobbyist or educational leader. Learn how to create some hands-on experiments through our Maximum Launch, enjoy our blog or browse our award-winning products.