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In this chemistry activity, learners will separate a mixture of FD&C dyes (colors certified and allowed by the US for the Food, Pharmaceutical, Cosmetics & Personal Care industry) to practice chromatography, a separation technique for mixtures. Learners will record their observations on a data table and note trends. This resource includes questions for learners and instructions for preparing the colors from M&Ms, Orange Kool-Aid, and food coloring.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • filter paper—about 15 cm. in diameter or coffee filters
  • toothpicks
  • jar lid – about 4 cm in diameter
  • Petri dishes
  • food coloring sets-4 vials
  • Orange Kool Aid
  • 1 lb. bag of M &M's
  • black transparency pens (optional)
  • pencil with graphite-based “lead”


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

Informal Categories

  • Food and Cooking


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


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Access Rights:

  • Free access with registration




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