Magic Color Changing Flower
Magically turn a white flower pink with a spray from a color-changing liquid. It's colorful chemistry at its finest.
White flowers are beautiful, and so are pink flowers, but what if you could have flowers that changed from white to pink and back again? That’s exactly what happens with the Magic Color Changing Flowers . The chemistry behind these magnificent flowers will boggle your mind and create stunning visuals that will have you wanting to repeat this simple process all day.
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- Synthetic, white flower
- Adult supervision
Soak the flower with phenolphthalein.
Allow the flower to dry.
Once the flower dries, spray it with ammonia to turn it pink!
After time, the flower will slowly turn white again
You can repeat the effect as many times as you want!
How Does It Work
Almost all solutions (liquids) can be classified as acids or bases. The more acidic or basic something is, the more it reacts with other chemicals. Examples of weak acids are vinegar (acetic acid) and citric acid (found in many fruits). Examples of strong acids are hydrochloric acid (in your stomach) and nitric acid. Examples of weak bases are mild soaps, detergents, and baking soda. Examples of strong bases are lye, ammonia, and sodium hydroxide.
Phenolphthalein [fee-nal-thay-leen] is an indicator that is colorless in an acidic solution and turns pink or magenta when in a base. So, when you spray ammonia (or your “Magic Water”) onto the white flowers that have been soaked with phenolphthalein, the indicator reacts with the base (ammonia) and the flowers turn bright pink.
The changes in color that occur when an acid or base is mixed with an indicator is an example of a chemical reaction. When two chemicals come together, sometimes they just ignore each other (no chemical reaction). Other times, they can gain, lose, or swap atoms, and change their physical structure. When this happens, a new product has been made and a chemical reaction has taken place.
Take It Further
Now that your carnation is pink, how can you get it back to white? Let the flower sit in the open air and keep track of what happens to the color. Some photos every few minutes might reveal what is happening.
Among many other ways, carbon dioxide gas (CO2) gets added to the atmosphere every time you exhale. When CO2 mixes with water moisture in the air, a weak acid can form. It is called carbonic acid. It is this weak, atmospheric acid that causes the phenolphthalein to slowly move from pink to colorless again.
Science Fair Connection
Performing the Magic Color Carnation experiment is pretty cool, but it isn’t a science fair project. You can create a science fair project by identifying a variable (something that might change the outcome) in this experiment. Let’s take a look at some variables you could test:
How might the sun affect the rate that the flower returns to white? Use a stopwatch to time the change and compare it to the change inside your home. You will have to figure out a way to expose the flowers to just sunlight since that is the one variable you are testing.
What other types of white flowers will change color or are carnations the only ones that do?
You aren’t limited to these. Come up with different variables and test them. Remember, you can only change one variable at a time. If you are testing a different type of flower, make sure that all the other factors remain the same.
Lab safety is as important to your experiment as the tools you use – maybe more!
- Adult supervision is the best way to do things safely.
- Wear safety glasses for every experiment!
- Read all the Steps before beginning your work so you know what to expect.
- Keep your lab space spotless. Clean up spills, messes, and broken materials right away.
- Put lids back on all chemical containers as you use them.
- Do not eat or drink anything in your lab. Keep that for the kitchen, not the lab.
- Ammonia is a strong base and it really stinks. It is safe to use as long as you are careful but it is an irritant. Never spray it toward you or anyone else. Keep it out of your eyes, nose, and mouth. A spray mist can move a long way, too. An immediate soap-and-water rinse gets spills off of your skin.
- When you are finished, put everything away and clean up your lab space. (You want to be invited back to do more research later.)