Doing Forensics with Paper Chromatography! (page 2)

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Author: Muriel Gerhard

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

  • What is a control?  A control is the variable that is not changed in the experiment.
  • What purpose does a control serve? It is used to make comparisons as to what changed or possibly caused the change.
  • What are variables?  Variables are factors that can be changed in an experiment.
  • What is an independent variable? The independent variable is the one that is changed in the experiment.
  • What is a dependent variable? The dependent variable is the one that changes as a result of the change in the independent variable.

Charting and Graphing Data

In each section of the experiment, use charts to display the obtained data such the following sample:

Color of Markers

Colors  Before Chromatography

Colors After Chromatography













Experimental Procedure

  1. State the problem you are going to investigate in this science fair project.
  2. Create and reproduce the data sheets you will use to record your observations.
  3. Put on your safety glasses, apron or old shirt used as a lab coat. .
  4. Gather all your materials.
  5. Line up 4 jars, label each one with the name of color of the marker you are testing, black, brown, orange and purple.
  6. Prepare your chromatography strips. Use the coffee filter s and cut out at least 8 strips in case you make a mistake.  Measure the length of the jars so that the strips can be rolled and taped around a pencil. The pencil will sit across the top of the jar and the strip should reach just about the bottom of the jar. Make the strips 1 inch wide and as long as you determined from your length measurement.
  7. With your pencil draw a line on each of the strip that is 2 cm from the bottom.
  8. Using each one of your magic markers, just above the pencil line made a dot. You will have 4 strips each having one dot of a different color.
  9. Using the measuring cup or graduated cylinder pour a small amount of water in each jar, the same amount in each jar.  
  10. Tape each paper strip to a pencil and place each pencil across each jar. Check to see that the strip just touches the surface of the water. Keep it away from the sides of the jar.
  11. Keep the strips in the jars for five minutes.
  12. Remove each strip and place them on plastic plate to dry.
  13. Observe what happened to each strip recording your information in your chart.  
  14. When the strips are dry place them individually in the plastic baggies to use in your final report and or display.
  15. Prepare your report and include all of the following: a clear statement of the problems, your hypothesis, List the materials used. Include the safety precautions taken. Describe the procedures used. Include all the data that were gathered. Include your chart. Formulate your conclusions.   For dramatic value, you may include photos of the materials used or of you in the process of conducting this investigation. Include a bibliography of sources you used. You may wish to assess what you did and describe what you would do differently if you were to do this project again.


  2. Chemistry Anne Helmenstine, Ph.D.
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