Make a UV Detector

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In this activity, learners use tonic water to detect ultraviolet (UV) light from the Sun and explore the concept of fluorescence. Learners will compare detectors using tap water and tonic water to observe differences in light from a flashlight and the Sun. Step-by-step instructions are included with photos along with important safety guidelines. This activity needs a sunny day. Activity guide includes a "What's going on?" explanation and connections to relevant science concepts like the difference in light sources, ultraviolet light, fluorescence, and quinine (a substance sensitive to ultraviolet light).

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 6 - adult

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • two clear cups (plastic or glass)
  • tonic water
  • tap water
  • flashlight
  • black piece of paper
  • pen
  • two index cards
  • tape
  • hardcover book


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
    • Light and Optics
      • Electromagnetic Spectrum
      • Sunlight and Color

Informal Categories

  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • DIY Science Apps


  • , The Regents of the University of California, 2014

Funding Source:

  • NASA, NNX10AE05G