Thar She Glows!

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Learners observe glow-in-the-dark objects in a homemade light-proof box. Objects can include glow sticks, glow-in-the-dark toys, and toys with fluorescent paint. The box is built with a black light installed, which can be controlled with a switch outside the box. Background information is provided about the difference between fluorescence (glows only when light is shined on it) and phosphorescence (continues to glow after light is removed), and an electron-level explanation is also provided.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 6 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • ¼-in. plywood: four pieces, each 11 in. by 11 in.; one piece, 11 in. by 11.5 in.; two pieces, each 4 in. by 4 in.; plus two pieces, each 4 in. by 6 in.
  • Heavyweight, opaque black fabric 1½ ft. by 1½ ft. (drapery fabric works well)
  • White vinyl mat or material made of flexible, waterproof material
  • 24 screws, longer than the plywood thickness
  • One staple gun
  • Black paper (four sheets)
  • One ceramic lightbulb socket with attached cord (to mount in box)
  • One push-button momentary switch
  • Insulated electrical wire (about 6 in.)
  • One “black light” bulb (keep two on hand)
  • Thirty 6-in. glow-in-the-dark sticks (available from Dear Creek products, Inc., (305) 978-0597)
  • One toy car painted fluorescent yellow
  • One glow-in-the-dark toy
  • One yellow toy (not fluorescent or glow-in-the-dark)
  • One small box or tray to hold toys
  • Three boxes for glow sticks (longer than 6 in.)
  • One spray bottle for cleaning solution
  • Cleaning solution (for example, Formula 409)
  • Box of tissues
  • One large plastic beaker


  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure

Informal Categories

  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation