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Density Column

This project helps teach your kids the concept of density (or mass per volume) in a given object or fluid by using common household items. TV crafter Jim "Figgy" Noonan breaks down his lesson.

Source: The Martha Stewart Show, January 2012


Resources: Lamp oil (or tiki-torch oil) available at The Home Depot. All other tools and materials available at your local grocery store.


  • Tall cylindrical (or similar) container

  • Water

  • Measuring cup

  • Honey

  • Light corn syrup

  • Concentrated dish soap

  • Vegetable oil

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Lamp oil

  • Food coloring (optional)

  • 8 cups (plastic, paper, or glass)

  • Large spoon

  • Small objects (metal nuts, beads, plastic toys, Ping-Pong balls, etc.)

  • Turkey baster


  1. To determine the volume of each substance you will need for your density column, fill your container with water to the desired level, pour the water off into a measuring cup, and divide the measurement by 7.

  2. Using a measuring cup, measure out an amount of each of your liquids (honey, light corn syrup, concentrated dish soap, water, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol, and lamp oil) equal to the volume measurement from step 1.

  3. Pour each liquid into its own cup and, if desired, add a few drops of food coloring to the clear, water-based liquids (light corn syrup, water, rubbing alcohol).

  4. To build density column, slowly pour liquids into the container, one at a time, in the following order:

    1. Honey
    2. Light corn syrup
    3. Concentrated dish soap
    4. Water
    5. Vegetable oil
    6. Rubbing alcohol
    7. Lamp oil

    (Tip: To prevent mixing of the layers while building the column, pour liquids over a large spoon, being sure to clean the spoon between each layer. For the thicker liquids, be sure not to get them on the sides of the container while pouring.)

  5. Test the density of various objects by dropping them into the column, noting where they stop and which layer they float on. Certain layers in the column will mix over time (due to the movement of water from high concentration to low concentration or the interaction of soap and oil, for instance). To dismantle column, use a turkey baster to remove top layer of lamp oil and dispose of properly. All other substances can be washed down the sink.

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