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This lesson is written by Master Teacher Joy Barnes-Johnson.
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
 Three 45-minute lessons


Water is a ubiquitous substance that is appreciated by scientists and artists alike as a medium for experimentation and artistic interpretation. The unique properties of water make it a universal solvent useful in separating complex mixtures. Dyes found in food coloring and markers are particularly miscible in water. This lesson will explore the concept of color as a complex mixture. It will also explore the unique properties of water that make it a good "mix separator," using hands-on techniques like paper chromatography and virtual science.

Learning Activities

Students will be able to:

  • Identify several properties of water as a universal substance

  • Describe the composition of several complex color mixtures

  • Separate the components of dye using chromatographic technique


National Science Education Standards, grades 9-12

Content Standard A
As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and understandings about scientific inquiry.

Content Standard B
As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop an understanding of the structure and properties of matter.

National Standards for Arts Education

Students should know and be able to relate various types of arts knowledge and skills within and across the arts disciplines.

New York State Academy for Teaching and Learning Math, Science and Technology

Students will understand the relationships and common themes that connect math, science and technology, and apply the themes to these and other areas of learning.

New York State Learning Standards for Art

Students will understand and use sensory elements, organizational principles and expressive images to communicate their own ideas in works of art. Students will use a variety of art materials, processes, mediums, and techniques and use appropriate technologies for creating and exhibiting visual art works.

Students understand and use the elements and principles of art (line, color, texture, and shape) in order to communicate their ideas.

Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society.

Media Components


Science for You, Episode #14: "How Do Insects Walk on Water?"

Art's Place, Episode #1: "Color"

Web Sites:

This site allows students to interactively engage in color mixing. Students will explore the effects of concentration on the overall color compound produced.

Chromatography of Mr. Sketch Pen Colors
This site examines the difference between additive and subtractive primary color mixtures, and provides a reference chromatogram for the separation of dyes found in Mr. Sketch brand markers.

Visionlearning: Chemical Bonding
This site explores the differences in chemical bonding: ionic, covalent polar and covalent non-polar. Pop-up window simulations of the synthesis of sodium chloride, hydrogen and water are presented. Links to self-paced assessments and review sites are available.

This interactive site examines the molecular structure of water and how its structure affects its properties. Shockwave plug-in required (may be downloaded on the site).

Water Module: Concepts and Challenges
This site examines the properties of water that enable it to form hydrogen bonds. Web-based movies are accessible using Windows QuickTime Media Player or VRML plug-in, allowing students to visualize polarity effects, molecular motion, rotation and symmetry.


Per class:

  • TV/VCR
  • Metallic spoon
  • Set of water-soluble markers of various colors
  • Roll of wax paper
  • Box of toothpicks
  • Various liquid samples (oil, syrup, detergent, vinegar, water, nail polish, nail polish remover/acetone)
  • Solvents (water, vinegar, ethanol, rubbing alcohol, acetone)
  • Containers to hold liquid samples
  • Medicine droppers, masking tape

Per group of four students:
  • 4 strips (3 cm x 20 cm) of white fibrous paper for chromatograms (e.g., commercially prepared chromatography paper, or filter paper)
  • 4 water-soluble markers (e.g., Crayola, Mr. Sketch, Vis-á-vis, etc.)
  • 4 test tubes

Per student:
  • Paper and pencil
  • Small square (6 cm x 6 cm) of white knit cotton
  • One large cup or beaker
  • Rubber band
  • Water Analysis Sheet
  • Color Analysis Sheet
  • "One Artist's Journey" by Beverly Netson