Dye Detective

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Learners analyze mixtures of dyes using filter paper chromatography. They place spots of the different dyes at the bottom of a piece of filter paper, and hang the paper to touch the surface of water. As water climbs the paper, the dye mixture travels with the water and indvidual dyes separate. Different dyes can be separated according to their solubility and size. The original operating procedure gives instructions for making mixtures of common laboratory dyes. However, water soluble markers of various brands also work well. This activity is currently used in the Biochemistry Unit in OMSI's Chemistry Lab. Cost estimates are per 100 learners.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • (6) dropper bottles
  • (6) wooden skewers
  • 1g Eosin Y
  • 1g Crystal violet
  • 1g phenol red
  • 1g bromophenol blue
  • 1g methylene blue
  • OR a variety of water soluble markers (replaces first 7 materials above)
  • tray to hold dropper bottles
  • 250mL squeeze bottle
  • filter paper
  • pencils
  • large binder clip
  • 250-mL plastic beaker
  • 600-mL plastic beaker
  • 600mL glass beaker (formerly 400mL)
  • large binder clip
  • 6-in dowel


  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemistry of Life
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure
      • Mass and Weight

Informal Categories

  • Crime Science


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 9355628