Thursday, 8 January 2015

Science for kids - Coloured flowers

This is quite a simple one. Grab some carnations (or other white flowers), a vase, some food colouring and water. Add a generous amount of colouring to the water (20-odd drops), add the flowers, and wait. It can take longer than a day, especially if you haven't quite added enough colouring, so be patient. Here are some shots we took of our red and blue flowers (I reckon you can be more impressive than this!):

The flowers turned blue quicker than red for me, and others have seen similar things (anyone know why?)

The science on display is the capillary action of the water - that is, how the flower drinks even without its roots. This ability draws water against the force of gravity up the stem and into the petals. It works because the water evaporating from the petals and leaves of the plant "pulls" water up the narrow tubes in the stem (the xylem) to replace that which is lost. The tubes need to be narrow so that the combination of the surface tension of the water (caused by cohesion in the water - how well it sticks to itself) and the adhesive forces between the water and the walls of the xylem are strong enough to lift the water against the force of gravity. The adhesive forces are proportional to the diameter of the tube, whilst the weight of the water is proportional to this diameter squared - hence a smaller diameter favours the adhesive forces.

Something funky to try is to split the stem and put one half in blue and the other in red. You can get multi-coloured flowers.


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