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Go With the Flow

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    The Exploratorium

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Go With the Flow

In this activity, learners will observe laminar and turbulent flow of water using only a plastic bottle, liquid hand soap, food coloring and water. Normally, you can't see how water is moving inside a full jar of water; water that's moving in one direction looks the same as water that's moving in another direction. Glycol stearate, the chemical that gives liquid hand soaps their pearly look, lets you see patterns flow in water.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 11

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A clear plastic bottle or jar with a tight-fitting, screw-on cap or lid (a clear plastic water bottle works great)
  • Liquid hand soap that has glycol stearate in it (The brand we used is Colgate-Palmolive's Softsoap, but any brand of liquid soap with glycol stearate -- not glycol distearate -- will work; check the ingredients on the label.
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Clear tape


  • Physical Sciences
    • States of Matter
      • Liquids

Informal Categories

  • Arts and Crafts


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Murphy, Pat; Klages, Ellen; Shore, Linda


  • All Rights Reserved, The Exploratorium, ©1998


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