Playdough core sampling : Fizzics Education


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Playdough core sampling

Playdough core sampling

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need

  • Playdough of different colours
  • A clear plastic tray (not essential but allows you to see the coloured layers from the side)
  • A plastic straw


A clear plastic tray and yellow straw in front of 4 different coloured stacks of play doh
1 A hand pushing playdough into a plastic tray

Gently push different coloured playdough samples into the tray, making sure that the layers are uneven in thickness and in different places of the tray.

2 Layers in the play dough sitting in a plastic tray

You can choose to either have the different coloured playdoughs represent different soil layers (also known as horizons) or alternatively you can use choose to model different types of soil in different areas of a map.

You can read more about soil layers below.

3 A hand pushing a yellow straw into a tray of play dough

Use the straw to collect a core sample of your playdough.


Gently squeeze out the playdough core sample onto some paper. Be careful not to break it!

5 A plastic straw being pushed into a tray of play dough. There are clearly other holes in the dough due to previous samples

Keep creating core samples in different locations in your tray. You could also sample along a straight line to produce a line transect.

Going further – you could add strings over the top of the tray to produce a grid for the core sample. Label each sample as you take it with its grid reference for future discussions.


Keep going to see the difference of core samples in your playdough tray.

  • What do you notice?
  • Can you create a 3D map of the different playdoughs?
7 A image of a stylised volcano

Get the Unit of Work on Geology here!

  • The Earth’s layers, the rock cycle, volcanoes, earthquakes & more!

From soil science to mineral testing, these hands-on experiments your students will discover the importance of natural resources and the role of plate tectonics in shaping our world.

Includes cross-curricular teaching ideas, student quizzes, a sample marking rubric, scope & sequences & more

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8 gold panning
9 Teacher showing how to do an experiment outside to a group of kids.

Online courses for teachers & parents

– Help students learn how science really works

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What is going on?

This activity models how geologists map the soils & rock types within a given area. The underlying soils & rocks can be quite different due to geological processes shaping the landscape. By drilling into the rock with special hollow drills, scientists can sample underlying rock layers to learn more about the formation of the area and to discover potential mineral deposits.

A series of soil cylinders with marked depths on tem in white marker. There are clear striations on the core samples

Bakken core samples – photo by Joshua Doubek

Rock cores on a metal stands. Each rock core is a different shade of grey. A map of NSW is shown next to them
Rock cores of NSW at the Museums Discovery Center

More on soils

Our soils themselves have several distinct layers, also known as horizons. Whilst not all of the horizons can be found in some soils, the following shows the order of soil horizons that are commonly found

A vertical section taken of soil. Grass is followed by an organic layer (O), surface layer (A), Subsoil layer (B), Substratum (C) & Bedrock (R)

Soil horizons – Image by Wilsonbiggs

Going into the horizon details a little further

O (humus or organic): Mostly organic matter comprised of decaying plat material. Sometimes thin in some soils & thicker in others, and sometimes not present at all.

A (topsoil): Mostly minerals from parent material mixed with organic matter

E (eluviated): A mixture of clay, minerals, and organic matter that has leached from the O and A layer, usually found in older soils or forest soils.

B (subsoil): A layer filled with minerals that have leached from the A or E horizons.

C (parent material): The material from which the soil developed.

R (bedrock): The beginning of the rock layer that sits underneath all soils. The bedrock composition is different in areas due to regional variability of geological processes.


  • The Kola Superdeep Borehole SG-3 retains the world record at 12,262 metres (40,230 ft) in 1989 and still is the deepest artificial point on Earth
  • A similar process is used to study ice cores. These ice cores can tell us about past climatic conditions.

More science trivia here

Variables to test

More on variables here

  • Would sampling the doughs at an angle instead of vertically produce a fair result? Why? Why not?
  • Would the diameter of the straw matter?

A man with a glove above a liquid nitrogen vapour cloud

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