Doing Forensics with Paper Chromatography!

based on 31 ratings
Author: Muriel Gerhard



Elementary - Grades 4 and 5

Difficulty of Project



$ 10

Safety Issues

Wear safety glasses and apron or old shirt as a lab coat.

Material Availability

The materials are readily available from the local stationary store and super market.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

One week. This includes collection, recording and analysis of data, summary of results and completion of bibliography.


To determine whether colors such as black, brown, orange and purple are pure colors or mixtures of other colors by using paper chromatography.

Materials and Equipment Required

  • Non-permanent markers: black, brown, orange and purple
  • 2  large coffee filters
  • scissors
  • 4 pencils
  • centimeter ruler
  • tape
  • 4 medium plastic cups or medium sized jars
  • 4 flat plastic plates
  • 4 small plastic baggies
  • measuring cup
  • large bottle of tap water.


Background Information

On the information level students will acquire some basic information on physical and chemical changes and on the process of paper chromatography involving the physical separation of mixtures of primary colors. They will observe a variety of changes actually observing the flow and separation of the components. They will research the various uses of chromatography such as in crime scene investigations, by pharmaceutical companies in analyzing the amounts of specific chemicals in their products, by hospitals in determining the alcohol in patients’ blood, by environmentalists in studying the level of pollutants in our water supply.  Students will not only experience an example of the process but in combination with armchair research see the direct and practical applications of this process to daily life.

On the experimental level, this science fair project serves to acquaint students with the essential processes of sciencing such as the importance of the use of a control, of identifying dependent and independent variables, of data collection, of pictorial and graphic presentation of data and of being able to make better judgments as to the validity and reliability of their findings.  They take on the role of scientists and in the process they learn to act as one.

Research Terms

  • chromatography
  • permanent colors
  • mixtures
  • solvent
  • solute
  • water solubility
  • water soluble materials
  • compounds
  • capillary action
  • adhesion
  • cohesion
  • adsorption
  • absorption
  • rate of absorption
  • forensics
  • chemical change
  • physical change

Research Questions

  • What is chromatography?
  • Who invented paper chromatography?
  • If you analyzed the parts of the word, chroma and graphy, what would be the definition of the term?
  • What are mixtures and how are they made?
  • What are compounds and how are they made?
  • What are the differences between physical and chemical changes?
  • How would you define a physical change, a chemical change?
  • What is capillary action?
  • What is adhesion?
  • What is cohesion?
  • What are solutions?
  • What are primary colors?
  • What are secondary colors?
  • What are some practical uses of paper chromatography?
  • Are there other types of chromatography?  What are they and how are they used? 
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