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Fabric Chromatography

  1. Overview
  2. Introduction
  3. Materials
  4. Steps
  5. Activity Questions
  6. Assessment
  7. Suggestions for Expanding the Activity
  8. Learning Standards

Overview

During this hands-on activity, students will be able to create a design on a piece of fabric. This activity demonstrates concepts related to states of matter and chromatography. This activity is simple and inexpensive, yet it provides endless possibilities for lesson expansion and fullfillment of learning standards. Warning: This lesson requires the use of isopropyl alcohol, which is harmful if put in eyes or swallowed. Please perform this activity with caution. This activity will last approximately 90 minutes. Lesson idea by Tim Shedd.

Introduction

The concepts that will be focused on for this lesson are states of matter and chromatography.

Background Information:

Matter exists in three states: solid, liquid, and gas. Most of the matter around us consists of a mixture of pure substances. Oxygen is an example of a pure substance. Mixtures can be in solid, liquid, or gas form. Gasoline, air, and wood are examples of mixtures.

Sometimes it is easy to see the different parts that make up a mixture. For example, in a glass of iced tea, it is easy to separate the ice cubes from the tea. However, sometimes it is very difficult and even impossible to see the different parts of a mixture. Scientists know that the main parts that make up the air we breathe are nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen. However, it is impossible for us to see this mixture. Therefore, it is very difficult to separate this mixture into its separate parts.

Scientists have developed ways to separate mixtures into pure substances. Chromatography is one way in which mixtures can be separated. Chromatography relies on two states of matter to separate a mixture:

  1. a solid
  2. a liquid or gas

In this activity we will use a liquid (isopropyl alcohol) and a solid (the fabric) to separate ink, a mixture whose different parts are difficult to see.

The separation of the mixture occurs because the different parts of the mixture have different attractions for the alcohol and the fabric. Some parts of the ink mixture will be more attracted to the alcohol, and will move along the fabric as the alcohol does. Other parts of the ink mixture will be more attracted to the fabric and will not move across the fabric.

Materials

  • fabric of your choice (we used solid white cotton t-shirts and canvas bags)
  • a plastic bag or piece of plastic similar in size to the fabric
  • permanent markers of various colors
  • isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • eyedroppers or pipettes
  • small paper cup

Warning: This lesson requires the use of isopropyl alcohol, which is harmful if put in eyes or swallowed. Please perform this activity with caution.

Note: When designing a large piece of material, a piece of cardboard may be used to flatten the work surface.

Steps

Section 1: Preparing the Fabric

  1. Place the plastic between two pieces of fabric to prevent the alcohol from absorbing into the other side. If you are also using a piece of cardboard, place the plastic over the piece of cardboard, making sure that the cardboard is totally covered. If used, the cardboard will create a smooth working surface, allowing the colors to run evenly.
  2. You are now ready to begin designing the shirt!

Section 2: Designing the Fabric

  1. First, we are going to draw a design. With one of the markers, draw a circle of unconnected dots about 2-3 inches in diameter. With a different colored marker, draw a larger circle around the first circle.
  2. Pour a small amount of isopropyl alcohol into a small paper cup. Fill an eyedropper or pipette with alcohol. Add a drop to the center of the smaller circle. Add an additional drop of alcohol every second until the alcohol begins to move outward through the circle of ink.
  3. As the alcohol moves away from the center of the circle, it will take some of the ink with it, creating a design.
  4. Once you have completed this design, try different designs. Experiment with the size and color of the circles you draw. (Once our participants mastered the technique, they began drawing squares, hearts, their names, and many other shapes and symbols.) Click here to see pictures of participants performing this activity!
  5. When one side of the shirt is complete, it must dry completely before designing the opposite side. If the shirt is not completely dry, it will bleed onto your work surface. It will also smudge the design.
  6. Depending on the amount of rubbing alcohol used, the shirts will probably take a few hours to dry. (We designed both the front and the back of our t-shirts on two separate days to assure dryness.)
  7. When your shirt is dry, it is ready to be worn!

Activity Questions

  1. Chromatography relies on two different states of matter to separate a mixture. What solid object was used to help separate the mixture?
  2. Relating to question 1, what liquid object was used to help separate the mixture?
  3. What colors of ink were more attracted to the t-shirt?
  4. What colors of ink were more attracted to the rubbing alcohol?
  5. Do you think some of the colors of ink were made from more than one color? If so, how do you know?

Assessment

Assessment Background

Our assessment methods were the same for Illinois and National Standards.

Our assessment methods were the same and for Early and Late Elementary School students. What changed was the level of the questions asked and the discussion.

During the Lesson

The participants used inquiry strategies to successfully determine how to design their fabric. To broaden the activity, participants tested different colors of markers, different shapes for their designs, and added different amounts of alcohol. Throughout the lesson, the participants discussed the inter-relationships between science, technology, and society.

At the End of the Lesson

At the conclusion of the lesson, a discussion was held to determine the level of participant understanding of how to design fabric. The discussion also encouraged students to think critically about how chromatography separates the ink.

Here is a sample of questions from that discussion:

  • What was used to separate the mixture?
  • What was the solid component used to separate the mixture?
  • What was the liquis component used to separate the mixture?
  • Do you think that some of the inks were composed of more than one color of dye?
  • In this activity, permanent markers were used. If they were permanent, why do you think some of the colors moved when the alcohol was added?

Each of the children who participated in the lesson was able to answer these questions at his/her own level.

Suggestions for Expanding the Activity

  1. Vary the fabric used. On two occasions, we used white cotton t-shirts and canvas bags.
  2. Try different types of permanent markers. The markers used in this activity have to be permanent, but different brands and different colors might give you a new look.
  3. Try different designs. Draw different patterns and see how the colors separate.

Illinois State and National Learning Standards that Apply to this Lesson

The following standards are from the Illinois Learning Standards, adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education on July 25, 1997. Take a look at the complete Illinois Learning Standards for Science, and for English/Language Arts.

Early Elementary

Subject Goal Standard Application to this Lesson
Science State Goal 11: Understand the processes of scientific inquiry and technological design to investigate questions, conduct experiments, and solve problems. A. Know and apply the concepts, principles and processes of scientific inquiry.
  • 1a. Desribe an observed event.
B. Know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of technological design.
  • 1c. Build the device using the tools and materials provided.
  • 1d. Test the device and record the results using given instruments, techniques, and measurement tools.
  • 1e. Report the design of the device, the test process and the results in solving a given problem.
Participants will be asked to follow the instructions in order to design their pieces of fabric. Participants will be using scentific tools (i.e. pipettes) while designing thier fabric.
Science State Goal 12: Understand the fundamental concepts, principles, and interconnections of the life, physical, and earth/space sciences. C. Know and apply concepts that describe properties of matter and energy and the interactions between them.
  • 1b. Compare large-scale physical properties of matter.
Participants will discuss and explain how the substances that moved with the alcohol difer from the substances that did not move with the alcohol.
Science State Goal 13: Understand the relationships among science, technology, and society in historical and contemporary contexts. A. Know and apply the accepted practices of science.
  • 1a. Use basic safety practices (e.g. not tasting materials without permission, "stop/drop/roll").
B. Know and apply concepts that describe the interaction between science, technology, and society.
  • 1a. Explain the uses of common scientific instruments. (e.g. ruler, thermometer, balance, prober, computer).
Participants will use pipettes while dropping the alcohol onto the fabric. This will illustrate the importance of safety and using scientific tools.
English/Language Arts State Goal 1: Read with understanding and fluency. C. Comprehend a broad range of reading materials.
  • 1a. Use information to form questions and verify predictions.
Participants will use the information they gathered about making designing fabric to formulate questions about the states of matter and chromatography.
English/Language Arts State Goal 3: Write to communicate to a variety of purposes. C. Communicate ideas in writing to accomplish a variety of purposes.
  • 1a. Write for a variety of purposes including description, information, explanation, persuasion, and narration.
Participants will answer various questions about their experience and about states of matter and chromatography.
English/Language Arts State Goal 4: Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. A. Listen effectively in formal and informal situations.
  • 1b. Ask questions and respond to questions from the teacher and from group members to improve comprehension.
  • 1c. Follow oral instructions accurately.
B. Speak effectively using language appropriate to the situation and audience.
  • 1a. Present brief oral reports, using language and vocabulary appropriate to the message and audience (e.g., show and tell).
  • 1b. Participate in discussions around a common topic.
At the beginning of the lesson, participants are given oral and written instructions to assist them with the activity. Their succes is based on how effectively they follow the given instructions. At the end of the lesson, participants are involved in a discussion that requires them to listen effectively to the questions. Participation is encouraged from every student during the discussion at the end of the lesson.

Late Elementary

Subject Goal Standard Application to this Lesson
Science State Goal 11: Understand the processes of scientific inquiry and technological design to investigate questions, conduct experiments, and solve problems. A. Know and apply the concepts, principles and processes of scientific inquiry.
  • 2b. Collect data for investigations using scientific process skills including observing, estimating and measuring.
  • 2d. Use data to produce resonable explanations.
B. Know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of technological design.
  • 2c. Build a prototype of the design using available tools and materials.
  • 2d. Test the prototype using suitable instruments, techniques, and quantitative measurements to record data.
  • 2e. Assess test results and the effectiveness of the design using given criteria and noting possible sources of error.
Participants will be asked to follow the instructions in order to design their fabric. Participants will be using measuring tools to design their fabric. After the activity, particiapnts will be asked to answer questions about the effectiveness of their designs and techniques.
Science State Goal 12: Understand the fundamental concepts, principles, and interconnections of the life, physical, and earth/space sciences. C. Know and apply concepts that describe properties of matter and energy and the interactions between them.
  • 2b. Describe and explain the properties of solids, liquids, and gases.
Participants will discuss and explain how the states of matter play a role in the fabric chromatography activity.
Science State Goal 13: Understand the relationships among science, technology, and society in historical and contemporary contexts. A. Know and apply the accepted practices of science.
  • 2b. Explain why similiar investigations may not produce similiar results.
Participants will discuss and explain the procedure for designing fabric. They will discuss how their designs and other factors can affect the results of their fabric design.
English/Language Arts State Goal 1: Read with understanding and fluency. C. Comprehend a broad range of reading materials.
  • 2d. Summarize and make generalizations from content and relate to purpose of material.
Participants will use the information they gathered about designing fabric to formulate questions about the states of matter and chromatography.
English/Language Arts State Goal 3: Write to communicate to a variety of purposes. C. Communicate ideas in writing to accomplish a variety of purposes.
  • 2a. Write for a variety of purposes and for specified audiences in a variety of forms.
Participants will answer various questions about their experience and about states of matter and chromatography.
English/Language Arts State Goal 4: Listen and speak effectively in a variety of situations. A. Listen effectively in formal and informal situations.
  • 2c. Restate and carry out a variety of oral instructions.
B. Speak effectively using language appropriate to the situation and audience.
  • 2b. Use speaking skills and procedures to participate in group discussions.
At the beginning of the lesson, participants are given oral and written instructions to assist them with the activity. Their succes is based on how effectively they follow the given instructions. At the end of the lesson, participants are involved in a discussion that requires them to listen effectively to the questions. Participation is encouraged from every student during the discussion at the end of the lesson.

National Learning Standards that Apply to this Lesson

Standard Level Application to this Lesson
6.1 Science as Inquiry K-4, 5-8, 9-12
Abilities to do scientific inquiry

K-4, 5-8, 9-12
Understanding about scientific inquiry
Participants will use scientific reasoning and critical thinking while designing their fabric. Participants will ask questions, conduct investigations, and gather information to help them understand chromatography and states of matter.
6.2 Physical Science K-4
Properties of objects and materials

5-8
Properties and changes of properties in matter

9-12
Structure of atoms
Structure and properties of matter
Participants are introduced to a way to seaparate a mixture by using chromatography. Participants discover that the pure substances that are attracted to the fabric do not spread out; the pure substances that are attracted to the alcohol spread out across the fabric with the alcohol.
6.5 Science and Technology K-4, 5-8, 9-12
Understanding about Science and Technology
Participants were involved in a discussion that explained how the process of chromatography can be used in society. Participants also hypothesized about other ways that mixtures can be separated.