FUN with Science!
Autumn Colors
Leaf Experiment
Easy Step-By-Step
What You’ll Need:
Several Leaves from Different Trees
Small Glass Containers
Rubbing Alcohol
Paper Coffee Filters
Shallow Aluminum Pan
Hot Tap Water
Aluminum Foil
Sticky Notes
Plastic Spoon
Science Facts:
Where do the beautiful colors of fall leaves come
from? They are there in leaves all along, they’re just being masked by the green chlorophyll each leaf
uses to make food during the warm, sunny months.
As days get shorter and colder, trees shut down the
food-making leaves for the winter and stop making
chlorophyll, which means the green goes away. Once
this happens, the other color pigments in the leaf begin to show through, and the leaves change colors.
Using chromatography, your students can separate
the pigment molecules in fresh leaves, revealing
some of the leaves “hidden” colors.
1. Tear, cut, or chop the leaves into really small pieces and
put them into the glass containers. Using a sticky note,
label each container with the name of the tree.
2. Add rubbing alcohol to each container, enough to cover
the leaves. Use the plastic spoon to grind the leaves into the alcohol.
3. Loosely cover the containers with aluminum foil and
place them in your shallow pan filled with about one to
two inches of hot tap water.
4. Keep the containers in the water for about a half-hour (or more, if needed) until the alcohol has become colored (the darker, the better). During this time, you
should gently shake each container every 5 minutes and replace the water in the pan if it cools down.
5. Using the scissors, cut a long, thin strip of coffee filter
for each container and label it with the tree name.
6. Remove the containers from the water and remove the
aluminum foil covers. Place the coffee filter strips into
their respective containers allowing one end to be immersed in the alcohol. Bend the other end over the
top of the container and tape it down.
7. The alcohol will travel up the paper, bringing the leaf’s
colors with it. After 30-90 minutes (maybe longer), the
colors will travel different distances up the paper as the
alcohol evaporates. You should be able to see different
shades of green, and possibly some yellow and orange.
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