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Food colour swirl

You will need:

  • 1 white plate
  • 1 eye dropper, pipette or straw
  • Water
  • Food colourings
  • Rubbing alcohol/methylated spirits
  • Adult help


1. Fill the plate with water.

2. Add food colouring in the position of the blue dots

3. Add the methylated spirits/rubbing alcohol in the cross position

4. What happens?

Be Amazing Book Front Cover; Ben Newsome, teacher & founder of Fizzics Education. Be Amazing -how to teach science the way primary kids love
Be Amazing!
How to teach science, the way primary kids love

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Why Does This Happen?

All liquids have a property called surface tension.

Surface tension is like an invisible 'skin' that holds the liquid together. It turns out that the surface tension of water is much stronger than the surface tension of alcohol. The surface tension within the water is stronger, pulling the food colouring away from the alcohol and causing the swirling effect you see as the alcohol mixes through the water. 

Surface tension is caused by cohesive forces between the molecules that make up the substance. The molecules right at the edge of liquid are pulled more strongly into the liquid than into the surrounding air. You see this whenever water is 'beading' on a smooth surface, with the water minimising it's surface area to the surrounding air.

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