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

Build Your Own Kaleidoscope: Do More Mirrors Mean More Reflections?

Difficulty
Time Required Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability This project requires a kaleidoscope-making kit. See the Materials and Equipment list for details.
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety Mirrors can have very sharp edges and corners. We recommend a kaleidoscope kit with flexible "safety mirrors" (see the Materials list for details). Adult supervision is still required when assembling the kaleidoscope.

Abstract

A kaleidoscope is a fun toy that creates amazing images when you look into it. Wouldn't it be fun to create those images yourself? Check out this project to learn how to build your own kaleidoscope and to learn how the inside of a kaleidoscope works. Then you can create and adjust your own amazing, colorful images!

Objective

Find out if adding more mirrors to a kaleidoscope increases the number of reflections you see.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Build Your Own Kaleidoscope: Do More Mirrors Mean More Reflections?" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 30 July 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Phys_p095.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, July 30). Build Your Own Kaleidoscope: Do More Mirrors Mean More Reflections?. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Phys_p095.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2014-07-30

Introduction

Have you ever played with a kaleidoscope? A kaleidoscope (pronounced kuh-LIE-duh-scope) is a toy that can produce amazing patterned images when you look into it, like the one shown in Figure 1, below.

Picture of a three mirror kaleidoscope

Figure 1. An example kaleidoscope image (Wikimedia commons user Hide-sp, 2007).

How does a kaleidoscope work? A kaleidoscope consists of a tube with several mirrors on the inside. Mirrors are special surfaces that reflect (or bounce back) light very clearly, as shown in Figure 2, below. When you look into a mirror, you see a reflection of yourself, which is created by light that bounced back to your eyes off the mirror. Can you think of some places where you see mirrors in everyday life?

Reflection of a cup in a mirror
Figure 2. This picture shows a real cup and a reflection of the cup in a mirror.

Now that you know a kaleidoscope is a tube with mirrors inside, how does a kaleidoscope make amazing images like the one in Figure 1? The answer is using multiple mirrors to make multiple reflections of small, colorful objects. Figure 3, below, shows an assembled kaleidoscope. On one end of the tube, the kaleidoscope has a small chamber (an end cap) to hold colorful objects, like small plastic beads. On the other end of the tube, the kaleidoscope has an eyepiece, or the part that you look through. When you look through the eyepiece, you see the reflections of the colorful objects in the mirrors, creating the fantastic images like the one in Figure 1, above!

Kaleidoscope kit parts
Figure 3. A labeled diagram of the kaleidoscope you will use in this science project.

Figure 4, below, shows a cut-away view of the inside of the kaleidoscope. This kaleidoscope has three mirrors arranged in the shape of a triangle, creating multiple reflections. When you look into a kaleidoscope like this, you will see an image like the one in Figure 1.

kaleidoscope parts diagram
Figure 4. A cut-away view showing the inside of the kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope has three mirrors (shown in light blue) arranged in a triangle, running the length of the tube (shown in brown). The plastic end cap and eyepiece are clear.

Imagine that you put a single colored bead in a kaleidoscope, and then cover up all the mirrors with black pieces of paper. What do you think you would see when you looked into the kaleidoscope? Do you think it would be something like the diagram in Figure 5, below?

kaleidoscope with no mirrors
Figure 5. If you looked down a kaleidoscope that had solid black walls instead of mirrors, you would not see any reflections.

Now, what if you removed one piece of black paper, exposing a mirror? What would you see? You would see a single reflection, like in Figure 6, below.

kaleidoscope with single reflection
Figure 6. In a kaleidoscope with just one mirror and two black walls, you would only see a single reflection.

Now, what do you think will happen if you remove another piece of paper, exposing a second mirror? Will the number of reflections increase, or will the image stay the same? What if you remove the final piece of paper, exposing all three mirrors? In this science project, you will find out what happens when you look into a kaleidoscope with different numbers of mirrors.

Terms and Concepts

  • Kaleidoscope
  • Mirror
  • Reflect
  • Reflection
  • Eyepiece

Questions

  • What are the main parts of a kaleidoscope?
  • How does a kaleidoscope work?
  • Do you think a kaleidoscope with two uncovered mirrors will have more reflections than a kaleidoscope with just one mirror?
  • What about a kaleidoscope with three uncovered mirrors? Will it have more reflections?
  • Is it possible for a kaleidoscope to create infinite reflections, that gradually fade off in every direction?

Bibliography

The following references will help you learn more about kaleidoscopes.

Materials and Equipment

  • Three-mirror kaleidoscope kit, available from Amazon.com
  • Black cardstock or construction paper (1 piece)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Optional: Digital camera to take photos of your kaleidoscope images
  • Lab notebook

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

Assembling Your Kaleidoscope

  1. Your kaleidoscope kit should come with a diagram and assembly instructions. Have an adult help you follow the instructions to put your kaleidoscope together. You can also refer to the general directions and Figure 7 (both below) as a guide, but remember that your kit's specific directions may be different.
    1. Optional: Use the stickers provided to decorate your cardboard tube.
    2. Insert some colored beads or other objects from your kaleidoscope kit into the plastic end cap.
    3. Slide the end cap onto the cardboard tube.
    4. One at a time, slide the three mirrors into the cardboard tube to form a triangle.
    5. Slide the plastic eyepiece onto the other end of the cardboard tube.
kaleidoscope kit assembly
Figure 7. The pieces used to assemble a kaleidoscope (left), and a completed kaleidoscope (right).
  1. Cut out two additional pieces of black cardstock.
    1. Your kaleidoscope kit should already have one piece of black cardstock that is the same size as the mirrors.
    2. Use a pencil to trace two copies of the shape of the black strip onto a new piece of cardstock.
    3. Have an adult help you use scissors to cut out two more pieces of black cardstock or construction paper that are the same size, as shown in Figure 8, below.
kaleidoscope cardstock strips
Figure 8. Strips of black cardstock that you will use to cover the kaleidoscope's mirrors.

Doing the Experiment

  1. Create a data table like Table 1, below, in your lab notebook. You will use this table to record your predictions and the actual results of your experiment.
    1. Note: You do not need to copy down the questions in the third and fourth columns. Those are there to help you fill in the answers in your table.
Number of Uncovered Mirrors Drawing of Mirrors Prediction Observation
0
kaleidoscope 3 mirrors covered
Will you see any reflections at all? (yes or no) Did you see any reflections at all? (yes or no)
1
kaleidoscope 2 mirrors covered
Will you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than with 0 mirrors? Did you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than with 0 mirrors?
2
kaleidoscope 1 mirror covered
Will you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than with 1 mirror? Did you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than with 1 mirror?
3
kaleidoscope 0 mirrors covered
Will you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than with 2 mirrors? Did you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than with 2 mirrors?
Table 1. Data table in which to record your predictions and results.
  1. Before you start collecting data, you need to cover up all three mirrors with your black cardstock strips.
    1. Remove the eyepiece from the kaleidoscope. Slide in a piece of black cardstock so it completely covers one mirror, as shown in Figure 9, below. Ask an adult if you need help.
    2. Repeat this process with the other two strips of cardstock, so all three mirrors are covered.
    3. Put the kaleidoscope's eyepiece back on.
kaleidoscope cover mirror
Figure 9. Push a piece of black cardstock into the tube, lengthwise, until it completely covers one mirror.
  1. Now you are ready to make your first prediction.
    1. When you look into the kaleidoscope, do you think you will see any reflections? Don't look just yet!
    2. Write down your prediction in the first row of your data table.
  2. Make your first observation.
    1. Look into your kaleidoscope. It will help if you aim the kaleidoscope at a plain background, like a wall or a piece of paper.
    2. Do you see any reflections? Write down your observation in the first row of your data table.
    3. If you are using a digital camera, get an adult to help you take a picture through the kaleidoscope's eyepiece. If you do not have a camera, you can make a drawing of what you see.
  3. Remove the kaleidoscope's eyepiece and pull out one piece of paper, uncovering a mirror.
  4. Make your second prediction.
    1. When you look into the kaleidoscope with one mirror, do you think you will see more, the same, or fewer reflections than you did with zero mirrors?
    2. Write down your prediction in the second row of your data table.
  5. Make your second observation.
    1. Look into the kaleidoscope, which now has one mirror exposed.
    2. Do you see more, the same, or fewer reflections than you did with zero mirrors? Record your observations in the second row of the data table.
    3. Remember to take a picture if you are using a digital camera, or making a drawing.
  6. Repeat steps 5–7 for your third prediction and observation, using two mirrors.
  7. Repeat steps 5–7 for your fourth prediction and observation, using all three mirrors.

Analyzing Your Results

  1. What happens as you uncover more mirrors in a kaleidoscope? Does the number of reflections increase, decrease, or stay the same each time?
  2. How well do your observations match up with your predictions? Were you able to predict correctly?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • The kaleidoscope in this project used three mirrors of equal size to form an equilateral triangle. The sides of an equilateral triangle have 60° angles between them. What happens if you change the angles between mirrors in a kaleidoscope? Hint: You will need to make your own "tube" to test this (for example, from a rolled-up piece of cardstock). You can also buy additional mirrors with different dimensions at an arts and crafts store.
  • Try making a kaleidoscope with more than three mirrors. You may need to purchase a second kaleidoscope kit, or purchase individual mirrors at an arts and crafts store, in order to do this.
  • How does the kaleidoscope image change when you change the number of colored beads (or other objects) in the end cap? Does it make a difference if you use just one bead instead of a handful of beads?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

physics teacher helping student model a nanostructure

Physics Teacher

Our universe is full of matter and energy, and how that matter and energy moves and interacts in space and time is the subject of physics. Physics teachers spend their days showing and explaining the marvels of physics, which underlies all the other science subjects, including biology, chemistry, Earth and space science. Their work serves to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers, including all healthcare professionals. They also help all students better understand their physical world and how it works in their everyday lives, as well as how to become better citizens by understanding the process of scientific research. Read more
Female physicist working

Physicist

Physicists have a big goal in mind—to understand the nature of the entire universe and everything in it! To reach that goal, they observe and measure natural events seen on Earth and in the universe, and then develop theories, using mathematics, to explain why those phenomena occur. Physicists take on the challenge of explaining events that happen on the grandest scale imaginable to those that happen at the level of the smallest atomic particles. Their theories are then applied to human-scale projects to bring people new technologies, like computers, lasers, and fusion energy. Read more
math teacher helping student at blackboard

Math Teacher

Math teachers love mathematics and understand it well, but much more than that, they enjoy sharing their enthusiasm for the language of numbers with students. They use a variety of tools and techniques to help students grasp abstract concepts and show them that math describes the world around them. By helping students conquer fears and anxieties about math, teachers can open up many science and technology career possibilities for students. Teachers make a difference that lasts a lifetime! Read more
Mathematician at work

Mathematician

Mathematicians are part of an ancient tradition of searching for patterns, conjecturing, and figuring out truths based on rigorous deduction. Some mathematicians focus on purely theoretical problems, with no obvious or immediate applications, except to advance our understanding of mathematics, while others focus on applied mathematics, where they try to solve problems in economics, business, science, physics, or engineering. Read more

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity