Dye Detective

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Learners use filter paper and water to analyze six different markers. They mark the paper with ink, and dip the paper in water. The water travels up the paper and dissolved ink travels with it. The inks that are like water are carried quickly up the paper, while those inks that like paper are slowed down and separated. This process, known as chromatography, is frequently used by forensic scientists to separate and identify different substances. This activity is part of the Crime Scene Chemistry unit in OMSI's Chemistry Lab. Materials costs are for 100 uses.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • one 250-mL squeeze bottle
  • filter paper (keep 3 full sheets of 46x57cm filter paper)
  • pencils (keep six on hand)
  • tray for filter paper and pencils
  • various water-soluble markers
  • two large plastic beakers
  • one 400mL glass beaker
  • large clip
  • six-inch long dowel, ¼ to ½ inch diameter


  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure

Informal Categories

  • Crime Science


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation