Jan. 02, 2015

Make Your Own Fall Foliage With This Dad-Tested Experiment

by Mike Adamick

Click to enlarge images
The following is an experiment from Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments, by Mike Adamick. Tune in to SciFri on January 2, 2015 to hear Adamick chat about more home science ideas. 

The Falling Leaves Experiment

Put a child outdoors and just get ready: Nature is the best science lab around. I've always found that kids + nature = lots and lots of questions.

One of the big questions that children tend to ask is why leaves change colors in different seasons. This falling leaves experiment is something you can do on the kitchen counter that replicates what happens out in the woods every fall. It's one of my favorite experiments, if only because the supplies are simple household items and it always makes me feel MacGyverish when we toss them together.

Here's what you need

A glass, spoon, spinach leaves, nail polish remover, white coffee filter, scissors, tape, and a pencil.

Here's what you do

Have your little lab partner break apart the spinach and mash the leaves in the bottom of your glass.

Now have her add enough nail polish remover to cover the leaves. You don't have to mix it up—just let the leaves settle.

Now cut a long, rectangular strip from the coffee filter. Tape one end to your pencil, so that the other end dangles into the leaf mixture. You should be able to rest the pencil over the glass so that the strip dangles into the mix but doesn't go deep enough to touch the settled leaves at the bottom of the glass. You may have to cut the strip a little or just roll it a few times around the pencil. 

Let everything settle for a few hours and write down your observations. After even a few minutes, you should start to see some changes on the strip, and definitely in a few hours.


So what's happening?

You've heard of photosynthesis before, right? It's the process of plants turning sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into their food—a process that also releases oxygen for us to breathe. Yay! The chemical in the leaves at the heart of this process is called chlorophyll, and it helps convert light into energy, or food, for the plant. When there's a lot of light, the woods are green and lush. When there's not…the inns in Vermont are booked solid for a month for leaf-peeping. 

This experiment basically replicates the decline of chlorophyll. You should begin to notice the green hues leech out of the leaves and into the strip and then turn into ribbons of brown and yellow—some of the same colors you'd see on a nature hike in the fall.


About Mike Adamick

Mike Adamick is the author of Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments and Dad's Book of Awesome Projects. His family recipe book is due out this spring. He blogs at

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.
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