Lava Lamps- A Hot Oily Mess

If you were born in early 60’s or 70’s,  chances are the Lava lamp was the cool thing to own. Though invented in 1963 by Edwin Craven Walker- an accountant yet proves that anyone can be a maker-Lava lamps took to the hype in 70’s. They made a comeback in this decade and you can see many e-commerce sites selling these mesmerizing lamps- if you want to splurge, be my guest and go on add it to the cart.

But….if you want to get your tools out and work on a fun DIY project, read on. Because these lamps are tad too easy to build on your own. And if you are a parent or a teacher, it could be turned into a fun chemistry lesson as well.

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Source: Google Images

First, lets understand how did a classic lava lamp work. It consisted of a bolus of a special colored wax mixture inside a glass vessel, the remainder of which contained clear or translucent liquid; the vessel was then placed on a box containing an incandescent light bulb whose heat caused temporary reductions in the density and viscosity of the wax. The warmed wax rose through the surrounding liquid, cooled, lost its buoyancy, and fell back to the bottom of the vessel in a cycle that is visually suggestive of lava, hence the name. Seems complicated, huh? Not really, Lava Lamps work on two basic principles- density and buoyancy of fluids. You take two immiscible liquids with different densities and heat them up and see the magic for yourself.

All you need to make your own Lava Lamp is to work on these same principles and trust me when I say, you can do it in under 30 minutes with the stuff you can find lying around your house.

So let’s get started…

Here is the material list, go on, collect it all:

  1. Food color of your choice
  2. Glass bottle
  3. Vegetable oil
  4. Fizzy tablets (Alka Seltzer) or Table salt
  5. 40-60 Watt light bulb (incandescent)
  6. Some MDF wood
  7. Transparent acrylic

Once you have your materials sorted, it is time to get down on the process:

Step 1: Fill the Jar one-quarter full of water, then add some food color to it. We worked with an old Keventers Bottle. You could also choose to make your vessel with acrylic sheets and give it a shape of your choice remember to do the leak test for the same and it also needs to have a little opening at the top.

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Step 2: Fill the jar almost to the top with oil and let the mixture separate

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Step 3: Pour fizzy tablets/salt until you see the cool lava lamp effect. When the bubbles stop, add more.

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Step 4: To add a base, cut out 5 squares of 15cm x 15cm using MDF wood. You may choose to have a bigger base as well.  Just remember, Measure Twice, Cut Once. 

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Step 5: Stick them together to form a cube. Use a transparent acrylic sheet as the lid.

P.S: Don’t forget to install the light bulb, its holder and the wires before sealing the box!

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Step 6: Put your glass bottle on the top and enjoy the show. You could seal the bottle with some hot glue as well.

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Warning: Remember to have a little space between the acrylic sheet and the bulb or it might melt from the heat emitted from the bulb.

There are many different ways to build a simple Lava Lamp at home and it’s easy enough that the kids could do it themselves! If you liked this project, challenge yourself and build a resin night lamp for a beautiful pink glow.

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