Homemade Lava Lamp
Styles come and go. Today’s hot item often quietly disappears from stores, to be replaced by a new fad. Sometimes the fad runs full circle—
you see an item that faded from popularity in the past regain its “gotta have”
status. Lava lamps went through this cycle; they were wildly popular in the 1960s
and 1970s, waned in popularity, and then came back again. You can learn more
about this chemistry-driven novelty in the ChemMatters article “Lava Lite®: A Chemical Juggling Act”
(April 1997, pp. 4–7). You can also use materials from the grocery store for a lava lamp-like experiment
using the directions below.
1. Remove the bottle’s cap and labels.
Rinse out the bottle.
2. Break two Alka-Seltzer® tablets into
3. Fill a small cup half full of vegetable oil.
Fill a second cup half full of water.
4. Place one piece of Alka-Seltzer® into
each cup. What do you observe?
5. Using the funnel, pour water into the
bottle so that it is about one-third full.
6. Add 5–7 drops of food coloring to the
water. Swirl to mix.
7. Add vegetable oil to fill most of the
remaining space in the bottle, so there
is approximately 5–10 cm of air space
at the top of the bottle.
8. Drop the remaining pieces of Alka-Seltzer® into the bottle, either one at a
time, or several at once. (Caution: Do
not place the cap on the bottle.)
9. Afterward, decant as much of the oil
as possible into a separate container
to dispose of in the trash. Add dish
detergent to the remaining liquid and
dispose of it down the drain with running water.
reaction is driven
by baking soda (NaHCO3)
and citric acid (C6H8O7) in the Alka-
Seltzer® tablet. One product is the
bubbles—what are they? Were the ingre-
dients able to dissolve and mix to react in
the cup of oil, water, or both? What is a
possible explanation for the bubble
action you saw in the bottle?
(Hint: think density.)
Patrice Pages, Lead Editor
Cornithia Harris, Art Director
Therese Geraghty, Copy Editor
Natasha Bruce, Senior Web Editor
Fred Colon, Web Associate
Marta Gmurczyk, Administrative Editor
Seth Brown, University of Notre Dame
David Voss, Medina High School, Barker, NY
William Bleam, Editor
Donald McKinney, Editor
Ronald Tempest, Editor
Barbara Sitzman, Editor
Regis Goode, Editor
Susan Cooper, Content Reading Consultant
David Olney, Puzzle Contributor
Mary Kirchhoff, Director
Terri Taylor, Assistant Director, K– 12 Science
Shelly Belleau, Chair, Thornton, CO
Scott Goode, Columbia, SC
Ethan Sullivan, Granada Hills, CA
Kristine Lynn Rademacher-Gorovitz,
Kathleen M. Cooper, Varnville, SC
Steve Long, Rogers, AR
ChemMatters (ISSN 0736–4687) is published four times per year (Oct/Nov, Dec/
Jan, Feb/March, and April/May) by the
American Chemical Society at 1155 16th
St., NW, Washington, DC 20036–4800.
Periodicals postage paid at Washington, DC,
and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER:
Send address changes to ChemMatters
Magazine, ACS Office of Society Services,
1155 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Prices in the United States, Canada, and
Mexico: $16 per subscription. For more information, please contact ACS Member Services,
P.O. Box 182426, Columbus, OH 43218-
2426; tel.: 1-800-333-9511; fax: 1-614-447-
3671. Information is also available online at:
Professional writers wishing to write for
ChemMatters can request the writers’ guidelines by sending an e-mail to: chemmatters@
acs.org. The American Chemical Society
assumes no responsibility for the statements
and opinions advanced by contributors. Views
expressed are those of the authors and do
not necessarily represent the official position
of the American Chemical Society. The activities in ChemMatters are intended for high
school students under the direct supervision
of teachers. The American Chemical Society
cannot be responsible for any accidents or
injuries that may result from conducting the
activities without proper supervision, from not
specifically following directions, from ignoring
the cautions contained in the text, or from not
following standard safe laboratory practices.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means,
now known or later developed, including, but
not limited to: electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without
prior permission from the copyright owner.
Requests for permission should be directed in
writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2016
American Chemical Society
Canadian GST Reg. No. 127571347
Printed in the USA
ACTIVITY By Erica K. Jacobsen
Want more things to try? Visit the ACS CHEMCLUB Activities pages online! Topics include
Valentine’s Day Chemistry, Baking & Chemistry, Forensics, and more. Then, explore each topic’s
links to demos, experiments, and videos. Head to:
www.acs.org/chemclub and click on “Activities.”
• Two Alka-Seltzer® tablets
• Two small cups
• Vegetable oil
• Clear, colorless plastic
bottle (1-L size with non-ridged sides works well)
• Food coloring