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Fall Leaf Chromatography {A Fall Science Activity}

In our neck of the woods, the leaves are just beginning to turn. And when that happens I love to make a fall leaf book and do a bit of fall leaf chromatography with my kiddos!

Fall Leaf Chromatography

Materials

To do this STEAM activity, you will need the following:

  • Leaf
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Coffee filter cut into strips
  • Jar
  • Pencil
  • Tape or a binder clip

Procedure

Begin this fall science activity, you can watch the following video about why the leaves change their colors.

Then, have the students do the following:

  1. Place the leaf on top of one of the coffee filter strips, and use the pencil to gently rub and transfer some of the colors from the leaf. Have them rotate the leaf around until there is a nice dark-colored spot about an inch from the edge of the coffee filter.
  2. As they are making the spot, fill the jar about a quarter of the way with rubbing alcohol.
  3. Once the students are done, place the strip in the jar so that the bottom is touching the alcohol, but the colored dot is not. Use the tape or binder clip to hold the strip in place.
  4. Observe what happens over the next 30 minutes.

Results and Explanation

The students should see that the original colored spot has disappeared, leaving behind a streak spread out colors. The colors that were left behind on the strip are the pigments that are found in that leaf. The alcohol picks up these pigments and sets them down on the paper at different times. Here are the colors you might see and the responsible pigments:

  • Green - chlorophyll
  • Yellow - carotenoids and flavonoids
  • Orange - carotenoids
  • Red - anthocyanins

Wrapping it Up

Did you try this activity? Take a picture of the colors you saw and tag us (@elementalscience) so we can see them too!

Then, check out these posts for more fall science fun:


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