We love using holidays and seasons as the inspiration for our STEM activities, and one of our favorite holidays to turn into a STEM holiday is Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day for kids is often just about eating candy or little cardboard Valentine exchanges that almost no kid reads. So instead of just those unhealthy and wasteful traditions, I like to make Valentines STEM activities part of our annual tradition with themed science experiments like this Valentine’s Day lava lamp.
Our Valentine lava lamp is my kids’ favorite Valentine science experiment to repeat every year and is always a whole lot of fun and a great activity for kids of all ages.
Learn about science this Valentine’s Day with this fun Valentine’s Day lava lamp!
You know what my kids love? Things that fizz and bubble. They are delighted to play with anything that is fizzy.
One of our favorite activities are lava lamps, not only because they are fizzy, but also because they are an easy way to show kids how gasses can move through liquids and make bubbles.
With this hands-on science experiment, kids can learn a little bit about how a real lava lamp works, which will add a little bit of science to any of your Valentine’s Day themes.
How to Make a Bubbling Valentine’s Day Lava Lamp
This fun lava lamp experiment will keep your kids happy this Valentine’s Day! You can make this lava lamp any time of year, but using red and pink colors makes it fun for Valentine’s Day science!
The Valentine’s lava lamp experiment is a fun way to explain how their burps work, and if your kids are anything like mine, they are oddly fascinated by burping.
So, why not take advantage of that and allow young kids to make their own lava lamp in this cold month of February?
The Science Behind Alka Seltzer Lava Lamps
The science behind lava lamps is quite interesting! Both homemade lava lamps and traditional lava lamps work through the same science principles.
But while traditional lava lamps also introduce the element of convection heat to keep the lava lamp in constant motion, the homemade lava lamp does not use heat.
Instead, it uses the other scientific principles of density, reactions, and biphasic mixtures apply. Keep reading to learn all about the science behind the Valentine’s Day lava lamp experiment!
What is in a lava lamp?
There are two types of lava lamps- the traditional lava lamp and the lava lamp science experiment version.
A traditional lava lamp is made up of two components- a waxy substance that is the “lava” and a liquid component that suspends the lava in the lamp.
Traditional lava lap wax is a mixture of paraffin wax and perchloroethylene (which is also used as dry cleaning fluid). The liquid is made of distilled water, salt, ethylene glycol, and coloring.
The lava lamp experiment materials are quite different, however. A homemade lava lamp is made of water, oil, food coloring or liquid dye, and a reactant that will cause the bubbles to form in your container.
In our lava lamp experiment, that reactant is Alka Seltzer tablets, which are a mixture of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.
How does a homemade lava lamp work?
Certain liquids would rather bond together molecularly with like molecules than with non-like molecules. This type of liquid is known as an immiscible liquid, also known as a phase.
Oil and water are both immiscible liquids, and a lava lamp made from oil and water is a biphasic mixture.
Oil is less dense than water, so it remains on the surface of the colored water.
Additionally, inter-molecular polarity prevents oil and water from mixing (oil molecules are not attracted to water molecules).
What happens when alka seltzer reacts with water?
When you add alka seltzer tablets to the water, a chemical reaction starts. Alka Seltzer tablets contain dried citric acid and baking soda. When the dry tablets reach the water, the moistened citric acid mixes with the baking soda, creating an endothermic chemical reaction that gives off carbon dioxide gas.
The carbon dioxide gas is less dense than either the water or the oil, but as the gas rises, some of the colored water forms around the gas, creating carbon dioxide bubbles.
Then, when the gas rises to the top of the oil and into the air, the denser water drops back down to the bottom of the container.
This cycle will continue until the Alka Seltzer tablet stops reacting.
More Easy Valentine’s Day Science Experiments
If you love the Valentine’s Day lava lamp experiment, check out these other fun valentines day activities!
- Creative Valentine Engineering Challenges
- Printable STEM Valentines for Kids
- Valentine Candy Science Experiments
- Elementary Valentine STEM Challenges
Lava Lamp Science Experiment Lesson Plan
Here are some tips on turning the valentine’s day lava lamp science experiment into a full lesson plan!
First, grab the STEM extensions for the lava lamp experiment to get discussion questions suitable for the grade you are currently teaching. Next, read the sections below and add them to your lava lamp lesson plan!
Who made the lava lamp?
A British inventor named Edward Craven-Walker is credited with inventing the modern lava lamp. He visited a restaurant that had a similar device to the modern lava lamp that triggered his imagination.
Walker spent the next few years designing and perfecting the lava lamp. The first lava lamp was available to the public to purchase in 1963. The original lava lamp was called the Astro.
Walker was passionate about the design of the lava lamp and believed it was a metaphor for life. “It is like the cycle of life,” he said, “It grows, breaks up, falls down and then starts all over again.”
How do you explain a lava lamp experiment?
Lava lamps are wonderful tools that teach children about density, buoyancy, and the properties of liquids. You can explain the lava lamp experiment to kids using the science explanation above. Additional facts and discussion points are included here.
Lava lamps are created from a mixture of water, oil, wax, and dye or colorant which gives them their unique look and feel. The wax is typically suspended within an outer layer of lighter liquid so that it can float on top when hot enough; as it cools down again , the liquid becomes more viscous as it pulls new wax out of the bottom of the lamp.
You can facilitate discussion between students on the differences and similarities between the two types of lava lamps and explore this idea further.
How long does a homemade lava lamp last?
A homemade lava lamp can last a long time. Since it is made of colored water and oil, as long as it is kept in a sealed container away from direct sunlight, your base mixture can last for months before it needs to be thrown out.
However, the reaction inside a homemade lava lamp will not last forever. If you are using alka seltzer tablets to make the reaction, like we are in this lava lamp science experiment, then your lava lamp will bubble as long as the alka seltzer continues to react with the water.
Most reactions end within 60 seconds of hitting the water and falling to the bottom of the glass.
Valentine’s Day Lava Lamp Experiment Ingredients
Gather these simple ingredients before getting started on your Valentine’s lava lamp experiment. You can also use these same supplies with other easy valentine’s day science experiments.
- Science beaker (or you can use a cup or jar)
- Pink or red food coloring (you only need a few drops of red food coloring)
- White glitter
- Alka-seltzer tablets
- Vegetable oil or baby oil
The dancing candy heart experiment works the same way, just with different materials!
How to Make Lava Lamps with Alka Seltzer
The lava lamp valentine’s day experiment is fun for any time of year, but adding glitter and heart confetti makes it extra fun!
Follow along with the printable, step-by-step directions outlined below to learn how to do the Valentine’s Day lava lamp experiment in your classroom or at home.