Saturday, October 5, 2013

Extracting Colors From Leaves

Last year I posted about one of the coolest fall science activities with leaves. I thought I would bring up this activity again just because of how fun it is.

Finding out what color the leaves will turn when God paints them for autumn is what this activity/experiment is all about. We use chromatography to extract the different colors that are in leaves. Chlorophyll is what causes the leaves to look green but when the chlorophyll breaks down in the autumn, the leaves' true colors shine through.

I love it when God paints the trees.

First, talk to your kids about why leaves are green and about photosynthesis and the wonderful changes that happen during autumn.

Check out books from the library about leaves and the changing seasons.

Go for a nature walk and check out all the different leaves.

Gather leaves from several different types of trees. Collect leaves that haven't changed colors yet. As you gather the leaves, remember to keep them separated and labeled so they can be identified later on.

Ask the kids what colors they think each leaf will turn for autumn discussing the reasons for their guesses.  Discuss what they think will happen during the experiment.

The Experiment


Extracting the colors from leaves is a
fun,easy, and inexpensive science activity.
Cut a coffee filter or two into strips about an inch wide. You will need one strip per leaf.

Gather enough small glasses (like shot glasses, juice glasses or baby food jars) for each leaf.

Get a dish or pan like a brownie pan or cake pan big enough to fit the glasses.

Get a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

You will need something to cut the leaves into tiny pieces and something to smash them when they are in the cups.

Boil some water for later.

While the water is boiling, have the kids cut up the leaves into tiny pieces - we used scissors.

Place each cut up leaf into a different cup.

Put a coffee filter strip in each cup with the top labeled with what leaf is in the cup.

Smash the leaf a bit; this just helps break up the cellular structure so you can get a more vivid result in a shorter amount of time.

Put all the cups into a deep dish or pan.

Pour some rubbing alcohol into each cup. I didn’t really measure this but it was probably a couple tablespoons per glass. I made sure all the leaves were well covered; this is what will extract the color so you don't really want to skimp.
**Remember, rubbing alcohol is not something you want your little ones to handle. Please be careful and keep it out of their reach. Supervise the older kids while doing this. BE SAFE**
Pour the boiling water into the dish or pan that the cups are in. The heat helps the rubbing alcohol do its job. Again, BE SAFE**

Let the cups sit for anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours. Until some of the alcohol has been absorbed by the coffee filters and you see some color spreading up the filters.

Pull out the filter strips and let dry. You will see all the colors separated out. Some will be more vibrant than others. If you use leaves that haven't changed yet, they will give the best results I found. You can also test to see the difference between the same type of leaf during the different stages of color changing.
chlorophyll – greens
carotenoid – yellow & orange-red
anthocyanin - reds
Depending on the age of your kids and what you are studying, you can go into all sorts of scientific studies, from the very basic of what color will the filter turn, or how much of each compound is in each leaf, or even why the alcohol worked. It's all up to you.

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