Floating and Falling Flows

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Learners create beautiful fluid motion. They explore fluid dynamics, surface tension, solubility, and buoyancy while mixing liquids together. Learners can photograph or film the fluid motion for analysis as well. This activity is also suitable as a demonstration. Learners can continue their investigations by completing the related activity "Density Rainbow and the Great Viscosity Race." Resource contains vocabulary definitions, detailed background information, and suggestions for assessment and extensions.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2 sheets of white paper
  • Tape
  • Pencils
  • Student Instructions Handout, one per group
  • Positive Buoyancy Worksheet, one per person
  • Negative Buoyancy Worksheet, one per person
  • Paper towels
  • Digital camera (optional)
  • rectangular glass container or vase (no smaller than 15 cm x 10 cm x 8 cm, or 6 in x 4 in x 3 in; available at hobby or craft supply stores)
  • 32 oz (960 ml) corn syrup
  • 16 oz (480 ml) isopropyl alcohol (99% recommended but 70% may be used)
  • Water (exact amount depends on size of glass container)
  • 2 syringes with needles removed (around 10cc; available at pharmacy or hardware stores)
  • 4 in (10 cm) of 1/16in (.16 cm) diameter tubing attached to opening of syringe (tubing available at pet store as fish tank air line tubing)
  • 2 small squeeze bottles of food coloring
  • 1 paper or plastic cup
  • Flow Visualization Images


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Photography and Film/Video


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Taylor, Cody ; Camacho, Gala ; Hertzberg, Jean ; Schaefer Zarske, Malinda ; Carlson, Denise

Source Collection

  • TeachEngineering


  • All rights reserved, Regents of the Univeristy of Colorado, 2006