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Chromatography Art

Have science fun as a family! Complete activities with parental supervision.

  • Coffee filters
  • Washable markers
  • Cup
  • Water
  • Paper Towels
  • Recommended: Newspaper or scrap paper
  1. Place the coffee filter flat on the table. If you have scrap paper or newspaper handy, put that under the coffee filter. If not, the marker may bleed through the coffee filter—but it’s washable!
  2. With one of the washable markers, make a thick circle in the center of the coffee filter.
  3. Fold the coffee filter into a cone by folding in half twice, creating this point.
  4. Place the coffee filter in the glass, carefully lowering it so the tip of the cone just touches the water. NOTE: If any of the ink is submerged into the water, it will dissolve too quickly and dye your water.
  5. Let the filter sit for 3-5 minutes. You should be able to see the colors slowly move up the coffee filter!
  6. After the color has moved up the coffee filter, carefully take it out of the water and lay it out flat on a paper towel to dry.
  7. Once dried, hang them up and show them off! Or take some scissors and cut out shapes—stars, flowers, and more!
  8. Be sure to take a picture or video to share in the Facebook comments on the Buffalo Museum of Science or Tifft Nature Preserve pages!

What’s it all about?

Liquid usually moves downhill, but in this experiment the water is moving UP the coffee filter! How? Inside of the coffee filter are tiny fibers that act like straws. The molecules in our plant and alcohol solutions stick to the walls of these fibers and are able to climb up the walls. This is called capillary action. Plants use capillary action to get water from their roots to their stems and leaves.

Chromatography is a process scientists use to separate components from a mixture. Each marker is made up of a recipe of different pigments and moves up the coffee filter at a different speed. So, you may start out with a black or brown marker, but it will break up into a rainbow of colors!

Try It!
  • The ink from washable markers dissolves in water, which then goes up the coffee filter. But what about other kinds of markers? If you have permanent or dry erase markers, try those out! Did they work?
  • Spoiler Alert—If those didn’t work, maybe try dissolving the ink withanother liquid. Maybe some rubbing alcohol?
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