Summer break is coming, which means it’s time to bring the classroom home and keep young minds active for the next few months. Here’s a quick scientific activity to spark curiosity and discussion in your own kitchen!

Candy Chromatography

This is a simple test to see just what dyes are in your candy, and it uses things you probably already have.

You’ll need:

  • M&Ms or Skittles, one of each color
  • A paper coffee filter
  • A tall glass
  • Water
  • Table salt
  • A pencil
  • Scissors
  • A ruler
  • Six toothpicks
  • Aluminum foil
  • An empty 2 liter bottle with cap

First, cut the coffee filter paper into as large a square as can fit. Next, mark it with your pencil. You need a line across one side of the paper about ½ inch from the edge and six evenly spaced dots along that line. Label them for each color of candy you have.

Next step: Make your solutions. Take a page-sized piece of aluminum foil and lay it flat. Place six drops of water on the foil, and set one color of candy on each drop. Wait a few minutes, and you’ll see that the color has come off the candy and dyed the drop of water. Then you can throw away the wet candy (and eat the rest of the bag).

Now, the delicate bit. Using a clean toothpick, dab the colored water onto the dots on the coffee filter. Keep your mark very small, no bigger than 1/16 of an inch. Dab, let it dry, dab again, and do it once more to get as much color on the paper as you can. Let all those dry, then fold it in half so it stands on end like an open book, with the dots along the bottom.

Next comes your developing solution. Put 1/8 teaspoon of salt and three cups of water into the 2-liter bottle. Cap and shake until all of the salt is dissolved. Pour a little less than ¼ inch of the salt water into your tall glass. When you set the coffee-filter into the glass, the dots should be above the surface.

You can watch the salt solution climb the paper (Why? That’s another experiment!), and as it does, what do you see?

The colors will creep up the paper with the salt water, and some colors will begin to separate into bands. You’ll be able to see which different colors of dyes were mixed to color your candies. Do this again with another kind of candy, with markers, with food coloring, or with drink mixes! Try anything with dye, and see what results you get. If you write them down and compare them, that’s science!