Lauren Hodson | September 2017

STEAM Lava Lamps

Are you interested in a fun activity that deals with density, intermolecular polarity, and gas? Then I have the thing for you: Do-It-Yourself Lava Lamps! I tried this with my art classes and the results were amazing! The students were so excited to take their basic knowledge of density to another level.

These Lava Lamps can easily fit into Arts Integration or STEAM by including a discussion of color theory, performance art, or when trying to incorporate technology or musical composition into a lesson.

To change your Lava Lamps from a demonstration to an experiment, hypothesize and answer some critical questions. Check out this link from Science Bob HERE.

An example of the questions that they suggest are:

  1. Does the temperature of the water affect the reaction?
  2. Does the size of the bottle affect how many blobs are produced?
  3. Does the effect still work if the cap is put on the bottle?
  4. Does the size of the tablet pieces affect the number of blobs created?


  • Glass or Plastic container (I used water bottles donated to the classroom)
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Water
  • Funnel
  • Food Coloring
  • Alka-Seltzer Tablets


  • Fill the glass or plastic bottle two thirds of the way with vegetable oil.
  • Pour the water into the bottle, leaving about an inch at the top.
    • It is interesting to pour the oil in first and make predictions as to what will happen when the water is added. Will it settle to the bottom or rest on the top?
  • Add several drops of food coloring and observe the drops as the break through to the water.
  • Break an Alka-Seltzer tablet into 3 or 4 pieces.
  • Once all the liquid settles and clears, drop the tablet into the bottle.
  • When the tablet begins to fizz, it will create gas and carry the colored water molecules with it through the oil.
  • As soon as the tablet is finished fizzing, the Lava Lamp effect will stop and you can add another tablet.

Tips and Insider Thoughts from the Field:

  • This takes A LOT of oil. Do this with small classes, group students together, or ask for donations from parents.
  • These must stay in the classroom because they are a mess and may not be good to take home. I made that mistake once and a student ended up with an oil soaked backpack. It was not pretty. I found that generic Alka-Seltzer did not work as well.
  • If the Lava Lamps starts to get cloudy after many uses, let it settle for a bit and it will sort itself out.

Links and Videos:

  • Why do Oil and Water never mix? Check this out HERE
  • This girl uses glitter, sequins, and baby oil in this video found HERE
  • Great video of the process with kid helpers! HERE
  • This video uses highlighter to create a glow in the dark Lava Lamp HERE

Arts Connections and Other Extensions:

  • To change your Lava Lamps into an Arts Integrated Science Experiment, align some visual arts standards. This could be a fascinating color theory experiment for the younger grades. If you add two primary colors, (red, yellow, blue) will the gas bubbles mix to create secondary colors (green, orange, purple)? Document the process with photography using the rule of thirds or sketch the process.
  • Take a video and compose music to go along with the giddy bubbles.
  • Design a set to go behind this experiment. How could it be included in a work of art?
  • Use glow-in-the-dark liquid and turn the lights off to view a lava lamp light show.
  • Add glitter or some other substances like confetti or even Legos.
    • Do they travel with the gas? Can they penetrate the liquid barriers?
  • Have a race to see who can get their Lava Lamp going the quickest.
    • Does the size of the bottle change the effect in any way?
  • See what happens if you add a whole tablet and compare it to a smaller piece.
    • Does the effect begin sooner? Are their more bubbles? Are the bubbles bigger?
  • Try it with other materials such as vinegar.
    • What is the difference if you only use water? What about another clear carbonated substance like Soda? Does it work? Why or why not?

Use DIY Lava Lamps to STEAM up your classroom or create an amazing Arts Integration lesson. They are so fun and even my middle school students were excited about them.

How can you use Lava Lamps to bubble up some excitement in your classroom?

About the Author

Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.