How to Make a Lava Lamp for a Science Fair

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Lava lamps were popular in the 1970s as decorative accents. The 'lava' in the lamp usually contains paraffin wax, carbon tetrachloride and mineral water. This substance becomes fluid when heated by a lightbulb in the base of the lamp. Once in liquid form, it will float through the colored water. These lamps are still available for purchase online. Simple products found at home can be used to build an example of the lava lamp for a science fair. This example does not use a lightbulb for heat so can be moved and displayed easily without a need for electricity.

Things You'll Need

  • Glass jar -- must hold at least 5 ounces
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt in a shaker
  • Flashlight or small lamp when electricity is available
  • Fill the jar with at least 3 ounces of water. A peanut butter jar is recommended.

  • Add food coloring to create the desired color of water. Any color is effective. Lighter colors will show the lava effect more easily. Utilize several jars with different colors for the science fair display.

  • Add 1/3 cup of vegetable oil. Wait for the liquids to settle into two distinct layers. The oil should float on top of the water because it is less dense.

  • Shake salt into the jar for 5 seconds. The salt should combine with the oil to create lava. Observe the motion of the 'lava' and add more salt when the lava stops moving.

Tips & Warnings

  • A tall skinny jar will provide more room for the lava to move in. A wide-mouthed jar will make adding the salt easier. Shine a light through the jar to increase visibility of the lava's movement. The liquid can be poured down a sink when finished. This experiment can be performed by grade-school students with minimal supervision.
  • A more traditional lava lamp can be made using candle wax but requires the use of chemicals that can be dangerous if handled incorrectly.

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