Structure of Matter: Pigment vs. Iridescence

Source Institutions

Source Institutions

Add to list Go to activity
Activity link broken? See if it's at the internet archive
This is an activity (located on page 3 of the PDF under Butterfly Wings Activity) about how visible light is affected by tiny nanoscale structures, producing iridescence on butterfly wings, soap bubbles, etc. Learners will break into groups and gather observations at three stations (bubbles, feathers, colored candies) to learn more about iridescent color versus pigment. Also relates to linked video, DragonflyTV Nano: Butterfly Wings.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons glycerin
  • 4 tablespoons dishwashing soap
  • container for bubble solution
  • bubble hoop (or wire coat hanger)
  • black background
  • white piece of paper
  • bubble blowing tools (tea strainer, wands, pipe cleaners, etc.)
  • peacock feathers (from a craft store)
  • other bird feathers
  • water
  • dropper
  • multicolored M&M’s
  • shoebox
  • scissors
  • colored cellophane (from a party store) or large multicolored holiday lights


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Vision
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Measurement
      • Size and Scale
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Diffraction and Interference
    • Light and Optics
      • Reflection and Refraction
      • Sunlight and Color
  • 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
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • 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


Source Collection

  • DragonflyTV


  • , Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., 2008

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 741749