The Amazing Water Trick – Investigating Density

density of hot and cold water

This fun science trick demonstrates that hot and cold water have different densities.

The demonstration reminded my kids that lower density liquids float above higher density liquids. They learned that hot water molecules move faster and further apart from each other than cold water molecules.

The trick also allowed us to revisit the topic of surface tension and to build on the air pressure science we learned last term.

What you need

  • 2 identical jars or drinking glasses (eg babyfood or salsa jars)
  • hot and cold water
  • red and blue food colouring
  • index cards or similar
  • scissors
  • a large shallow dish to catch spills

What you do

1. Cut a square of card big enough to completely cover the mouth of a jar.

2. Fill one jar with cold water. Add a drop of blue colouring and stand the jar in the baking pan.

2. Fill the second jar with very hot water. Add a drop of red colouring.

3. Slowly add more hot water to the red jar until you see a bulge of water over the rim. (Take the opportunity to talk about surface tension here.)

4.  Lay the square of card on top of the jar of hot water and tap it gently.

5. Ask your students to predict what will happen when you quickly turn the jar upside down. Then invert the jar, and discuss how air pressure and surface tension keep the card in place and the water in the jar.

6. Put the upside-down red jar on top of the blue jar.  Ask your students to predict what will happen when you slowly pull out the card, then do so.

fun water experiments
Atmospheric pressure holds the card and water in place (left)

What happens

When you remove the card between the two jars, the hot red water stays in its jar on top and the cold blue water stays on the bottom.

fun water experiments
Hot water floating on top of cold water

Reverse the jars

7. Repeat the experiment the other way round. Turn the jar of cold water upside-down and put it on top of the hot water jar. Again, ask students to predict what will happen when you remove the card.

What happens

When you remove the card, the water quickly turns purple, as the cold and hot water mix together.

fun water experiments
Hot and cold water mix

The scientific explanation

When water is heated, the water molecules move faster. They bounce off one another and move further apart. The extra space between the molecules means the same volume of water weights slightly less and is less dense than cold water.

When we put the hot water on top, the less dense hot water floats on top of the denser cold water. The red water and blue water stay in their respective jars and do not mix.

When we put the cold jar on top, the more dense cold water immediately sinks to the bottom and the two colours mix.

We talked about a previous demonstration in which we created a column of liquids with different densities, and reminded ourselves by pouring water into a glass of oil and watching the oil float to the surface.

fun water experiments
Oil floating on water

More fun water experiments

The Tiger Chronicle recently did a bunch of fun water experiments. I especially like the supercooled water video.

All Things Beautiful explored density as part of their science investigations that all students should do before high school series.

I found the Amazing Water Trick at Exploratorium.

fun water experiments

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Fun water experiments

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41 thoughts on “The Amazing Water Trick – Investigating Density

  1. We tried this years ago, but I’m afraid we didn’t get such wonderful results as you. I remember lots of wet going everywhere! Maybe it’s time to try again. I really do have to pull up my science socks and get sciencing again this year! (spell check does not like me!)

  2. Love how you conceptually linked the experiments here to work you had done in the past! And C(9)’s expression as she watches the water molecules migrate is priceless! Will have to do some water experiments soon with the kids–they look like such fun!

  3. This is a very cool experiment. I’ll have to give it a try. Fingers-crossed for good results — we aren’t always successful with our science experiments…. 🙂

    1. I liked it because it’s simple but demonstrates a number of science concepts – good value! 😉
      Thank you for hosting the After School Link Up – I’m very happy to have found you!

  4. I really like this demo. We did a similar experiment making an underwater “volcano” by placing colored hot water in a flask then down into a tank of cold water. I like the smaller scale of this one and the addition of the paper. Nice job documenting the process, too.

    1. Thanks, Bella. Your science classes sound like they were more fun than mine! Or perhaps you just have a better memory. 😉
      We like pretty, visual science round here!

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