-->
Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Fall Chromatography

Fall Leaves / Extraction
Mashing a pile of fall leaves offers a colorful demonstration of "extraction" and sets the stage for paper-towel-based chromatography.

One of the things that I often miss living in the Bay Area is the definitive visual change of seasons. Having spent many years in Appalachia, I grew up with the splendor of Autumn unfolding around me each September, the array of intense reds and golds giving way to barren branches poised to hold ice and snow through the winter months. It's very different when you live where there is never a hard freeze.

Given that things seem to bloom almost year-round here, I often forget about Autumn foliage, about what it looks like to drive a mountain road and see trees dipped in color, about what it means to have to rake a yard and bag up leaves, about the crisp crunch of them underfoot. Drive an hour south, however, and you run right into changing trees, even ornamental trees in parking lots and around industrial buildings are saturated with color. As I pulled into a parking spot last week for a Science Buddies' meeting, I saw the colors of "fall" in trees all around me and got to thinking about the opportunity these leaves present for studying pigmentation and even chromatography with my kids.

A quick search on the Science Buddies' site turned up a great project with which to dig beneath the surface of things and get a better understanding of what's going on within the leaves at this time of year. With a Science Buddies' Difficulty Level rating of 1 and a timeframe of less than a day, the "What Color Are the Leaves Really Turning?" project idea is perfect for even the youngest of classrooms or for a home-based after-school project. The project involves gathering leaves (a nature walk), sorting them by color (math), and then extracting the pigment by mashing (fun) the leaves in alcohol (a solvent). Once the color has been extracted, ordinary heavyweight paper towels cut into strips allow simple chromatographic analysis of the colors in each extract letting you see the range of colors at play.

There's a lot going on in this simple-to-perform experiment!

Expanding these fundamental concepts and procedures a bit, the Make Your Own Markers project uses color extracted from plants and paper chromatography to make homemade markers. This project can also be done with spices, richly colored vegetables, and other plants, but if an abundance of Autumn leaves are nearby, you've got the makings of a nice set of red and orange markers!

Science Buddies Science Activities

Science Buddies and Autodesk for Student STEM Exploration


thumbnail
Environmental conservation and energy science collide in a proposed solar power project that promises greener energy but threatens to disrupt a major migratory path for birds. Students explore with big data science.

thumbnail
Think baseball is all about runs, outs, balls, and strikes? What about physics, biomechanics, and statistics? Explore the science of baseball!

thumbnail
We go DIY with molecular gastronomy and family science as we make our own popping boba using the Spherification Kit from the Science Buddies Store.

thumbnail
The current Ebola crisis in West Africa has already topped charts for all Ebola outbreaks in history. Medical biotechnology science projects let students gets hands-on with projects that parallel real-world research and development.

thumbnail
An unusual caterpillar brings lots of "eeeews!" and one contribution to a citizen science project. Discover how anyone can collaborate on serious scientific research.

thumbnail
UC Berkeley Professor Dan Garcia talks about the kind of "drag-and-drop," block-based, snap-together programming environments that are becoming increasingly popular as a way to introduce students of all ages to code.



Your Science!
What will you explore for your science project this year? What is your favorite classroom science activity? Email us a short (one to three sentences) summary of your science project or teaching tip. You might end up featured in an upcoming Science Buddies newsletter!



You may print and distribute up to 200 copies of this document annually, at no charge, for personal and classroom educational use. When printing this document, you may NOT modify it in any way. For any other use, please contact Science Buddies.