How Does It Work
First of all, you confirmed what you already know—oil and water do not mix. Even if you try to shake up the bottle, the oil breaks up into small little drops, but it doesn’t mix with the water. Why is it that oil and water are such opposites?
Oil and water don’t mix because of how their molecules are constructed. Water is what is known as a polar molecule. A water molecule is shaped like a V, with an oxygen atom at the bottom point of the V and a hydrogen atom on each of the two top ends. However, there is unequal sharing of electrons between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This means that the bottom of the molecule has a negative electrical charge, while the top carries a positive charge.
Vegetable oil, on the other hand, is a nonpolar molecule made of long chains of hydrocarbons—strings of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. Unlike the water molecule, there is equal sharing of electrons between the carbon and hydrogen atoms. This means that the electrical charges of the atoms are not separated, so the molecules don’t have opposite positive and negative ends.
If you were to think of molecules like groups of people, the polar molecules hang out with other polar molecules, and the nonpolar molecules with other nonpolar molecules. This brings us back to the reason why oil and water don’t mix. Water is a polar molecule, and it just doesn’t hang out with nonpolar molecules like oil. Scientists say that oil and water are immiscible.
The adage “like dissolves like” will help you remember what will mix with what. Salt and water mix because both molecules are polar—like dissolves like. It’s also easy to mix vegetable oil and olive oil, or motor oil and peanut oil . . . but that’s gross.
You also noticed that food coloring only mixes with water . . . and now you know why. Food coloring is a polar molecule because it dissolves in water. In other words, food coloring and water are miscible. Vegetable oil is not affected by the food coloring because they are polar opposites.
Here’s the surprising part . . . the Alka-Seltzer tablet reacts with the water to make tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. These bubbles attach themselves to the blobs of colored water and cause them to float to the surface. When the bubbles pop, the color blobs sink back to the bottom of the bottle, and the whole thing starts over until the Alka-Seltzer is used up. When the chemical reaction between the Alka-Seltzer and water is over and the bubbling stops, you’re left with a cool looking wave bottle that will sit proudly on your desk.
Take It Further
Make a Lava Lamp
As you watched the bubbling color blobs rise and fall in the water, you probably thought to yourself, “This is just like a lava lamp . . . without the lamp!” On a side note, if you have no concept of what a lava lamp is, pull out your smart phone and Google it.
To make a cool looking lava lamp, you’ll need a large flashlight like the one in the photograph. Carefully rest the bottle of oil and water directly on the lens of the flashlight and repeat the experiment above with the bright light shining up and through the liquid. Groovy, baby!
Essay/Term paper: lava lamp paper (how to make)
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Things you can use to make a Lava Lamp.
There are many things you can use to make a Lava Lamp. Aside from wax and water, there are many other substances that you can use to make the lamp work in the same fashion. For example, you can use mineral oil as the lava and 90% isopropyl alcohol mixed with 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) as the liquid inside the lamp. By mixing the two types of alcohol, you will create a perfect balance. The mineral oil will fall to the bottom in the 90% alcohol but, once you add the 70% alcohol and mix it in the other alcohol, the mineral oil seems lighter and will rise off the bottom. You need to keep in mind that you need to place more 70% alcohol than the 90%. Place this mixture in a closed container and over a 40-watt light bulb. It will actually work just as well as a lamp that you would buy at a store. If the liquid would get stuck at the top of the lamp then all you have to do is dim the bulb a tiny bit of place a fan at the top of the container. If you want to dye the lava, just use an oil-based dye (you can buy it at an artist supply shop) and to dye the liquid around it, use food coloring. If the lava clogs up into clusters, use turpentine to make the lava into small bubbles and not the huge ones we"re used to. For faster warm-up time, you can use anti freeze but be careful not to place too much because it will cloud the alcohol. I don"t suggest that you do this until you have mastered the technique of making lamps because you might mess up the 70/90-alcohol balance.
There are other things which you can use to create a Lava Lamp but you always have to remember that the lava has to be more dense than the liquid (wax, Vaseline, oil, etc.) and the liquid can be water, alcohol and other substances which aren"t that dense/concentrated. Remember that you need a perfect balance of lava, the liquid surrounding it and heat from a light source. This Is a fairly simple thing to make because all you need is few materials which are easy to find and aren"t that expensive.
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