Colourful currents science experiment | Fizzics Education

Colourful currents

Colourful currents

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

  • 2 glass bottles with wide openings (we used milk bottles)
  • 2 different food colours (we used yellow and blue)
  • Hot water from the tap
  • Cold water
  • A tray
  • An index card
  • Optional: a freezer, thermometer and a stopwatch
Two Glass Bottles on a black desk with yellow and blue food colouring bottles with a yellow index card behind
1 A glass bottle filled with water in a freezer

Fill one of the glass bottles to the top with water and place into the freezer. You don’t want to freeze the water, you just want to chill it. Wait roughly 5 to 10 minutes. This step isn’t absolutely essential but it certainly makes the temperature difference between the bottles more pronounced.

2 A glass bottle underneath a tap collecting hot water

When the cold water bottle is chilled, fill the other bottle with hot water to the top from the tap. Caution – if your tap is very hot use an adult’s help.

3 Adding blue food colouring to one bottle of water with another bottle of water already coloured yellow

Place both bottles onto the tray. Add blue food colouring to the hot water and yellow food colouring to the cold water.

4 A yellow card being held over the yellow water bottle

Keeping the index card as flat as possible, place the index card over the top o the yellow hot water bottle. Don’t squish down on the card, you just want to seal the bottle.

5 Upturned yellow water bottle with the index card underneath it being held up by a hand.

Carefully turn the hot yellow water bottle upside-down whilst gently pushing the index card upwards to keep the water sealed by the index card. If the seal is intact, you should be able to take your hand away from underneath the card and the water shouldn’t fall out. This works due to air pressure in the room pushing the water upwards. Full explanation in the upside-down water cup experiment here.

6 A yellow bottle of water upside down above a blue bottle of water with an index card in-between them.

Carefully place the cold yellow water bottle directly over the top of the hot blue water bottle. Make sure that the openings of the bottles line up as close as possible!

7 Pulling an index out of between two water bottles that are connected together. (yelloe bottle above and blue bottle below). A swirl of green colour is happening between the two bottles as the blue water below rises into the yellow water above.

Moment of truth! Holding the top water bottle, gently pull the index out of between the two glass bottles. You should see currents of hot blue water rise into the cold water and currents of cold yellow water fall down into the blue water.

8 A glass bottle of water suspended over another glass bottle of water. Both bottles are coloured green

As the experiment progresses you should find that the colours mix to form green. The currents will stop moving once both water bottles are the same temperature. How long did this take?

What is going on?

Hot water rises and cold water falls! More specifically, hot water is less dense than cold water. When you removed the index card from between the two bottles, the dense cold water in the top bottle dropped downwards and the less dense hot water rose to the top of the bottles.

Why does this matter?

Liquids and gases both will move due to density differences. Because of this, water will move throughout the ocean due to uneven heating and different salinity levels causing density differences which then drives the water currents. The atmosphere also moves due to uneven heating, helping to cause changes in weather patterns. When we see the movement of liquids or gases due to uneven heating it is known as convection.

Variables to change in this experiment

  • The temperature differences between the two bottles of water
  • The opening size of the bottles… does this matter?
  • Does this experiment work with salty vs. freshwater?
  • Does this experiment work with different liquids?

Learn more!

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