Five-Layer Density Column

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In this activity, learners can create five-layer density columns by employing one of three (or all) methods. Method 1 gives the names of the liquids and the order for adding them, and its goal is to directly construct the density column without any experimentation. Method 2 assumes names and densities of the five materials to be unknown, and involves open-ended experimenting, with few instructions, to construct the column. Method 3 also assumes names and densities of the materials to be unknown, and outlines a systematic way to approach the experimentation involved in constructing the column. Learners complete data tables and analyze the densities of the substances.

Quick Guide

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • clear plastic container
  • food coloring
  • water
  • canola oil
  • 60% isopropyl alcohol
  • graduated cylinder
  • mineral oil
  • 91% isopropyl alcohol
  • small test containers
  • Data Tables
  • pencils


  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Rathjen, Don


  • All rights reserved, Exploratorium, 2005