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Walking Water Experiment

 Teach your students about capillary action with this fun and easy-to-do science experiment. Walking Water uses low-cost materials with a dramatic result. All you need is paper towels, water, jars, and food coloring.

Capillary Action
 
 
Capillary Action Experiment
 
Students will be amazed to see how the water moves from one cup to the other.  First, it moves uphill! And the empty jars begin to fill with water!
 
If you use primary colors, as I did, the colors in the middle will be the secondary colors.
 
The set up for this science experiment is easy to do and uses just a few materials.

Capillary action occurs because water is sticky, thanks to the forces of cohesion (water molecules like to stay close together) and adhesion (water molecules are attracted and stick to other substances). Adhesion of water to the walls of a vessel will cause an upward force on the liquid at the edges and result in a meniscus that turns upward. The surface tension acts to hold the surface intact. We can see capillary action in this Walking Water Experiment. Capillary action occurs when the adhesion to the walls is stronger than the cohesive forces between the liquid molecules. The height to which capillary action will take water in a uniform circular tube (picture to right) is limited by surface tension and, of course, gravity.

Not only does water tend to stick together in a drop, it sticks to glass, cloth, organic tissues, soil, and, luckily, to the fibers in a paper towel. Dip a paper towel into a glass of water and the water will “climb” onto the paper towel. In fact, it will keep going up the towel until the pull of gravity is too much for it to overcome.

Capillary action is all around us every day

  • If you dip a paper towel in water, you will see it “magically” climb up the towel, appearing to ignore gravity. You are seeing capillary action in action, and “climbing up” is about right – the water molecules climb up the towel and drag other water molecules along.
  • Plants and trees couldn’t thrive without capillary action. Plants put down roots into the soil which are capable of carrying water from the soil up into the plant. Water, which contains dissolved nutrients, gets inside the roots and starts climbing up the plant tissue. Capillary action helps bring water up into the roots. But capillary action can only “pull” water up a small distance, after which it cannot overcome gravity. To get water up to all the branches and leaves, the forces of adhesion and cohesion go to work in the plant’s xylem to move water to the furthest leaf. 
  • Maybe you’ve used a fountain pen …. or maybe your parents or grandparents did. The ink moves from a reservoir in the body of the pen down to the tip and into the paper (which is composed of tiny paper fibers and air spaces between them), and not just turning into a blob. Of course, gravity is responsible for the ink moving “downhill” to the pen tip, but capillary action is needed to keep the ink flowing onto the paper.
Walking Water Experiment
 
science experiment for kids
Want to know the science behind this experiment and get a free lesson plan and follow-up pages?  Subscribe to my newsletter and get this and other freebies monthly! Students will love this resource for Walking Water and Capillary Action!]
 
 
Walking Water Lab
 
You will get the follow-up pages, lab directions, and science background in my 
Walking Water Lesson.

 

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I am so impressed with this unit which manages to be distance learning and hands-on at the same time.  Really well thought out and engaging activities that allow students to practice each of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.  Really no prep for me!

 
Science and Engineering Practices Distance Education Unit

Tina S

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:05:39-06:00

Tina S

I am so impressed with this unit which manages to be distance learning and hands-on at the same time.  Really well thought out and engaging activities that allow students to practice each of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.  Really no prep for me!   Science and Engineering Practices Distance Education Unit
The elephant article was excellent but I also thought the lab on dissecting a flower was broken down so easily, even telling me where to get inexpensive flowers!  This resource helped me teach this challenging standard in an engaging way.  Worth every penny!

 
Structure and Function NGSS 4-LS1-1 and 4-LS1-2

Richard S

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:07:52-06:00

Richard S

The elephant article was excellent but I also thought the lab on dissecting a flower was broken down so easily, even telling me where to get inexpensive flowers!  This resource helped me teach this challenging standard in an engaging way.  Worth every penny!   Structure and Function NGSS 4-LS1-1 and 4-LS1-2
As always, Lynda provides perfect alignment with the standards.

 
Age of the Earth and Geologic Time Scale NGSS MS ESS1-4

Sharon M

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:24:44-06:00

Sharon M

As always, Lynda provides perfect alignment with the standards.   Age of the Earth and Geologic Time Scale NGSS MS ESS1-4
Thank you so much for creating this resource! It is such a fun and engaging activity for my students, especially during distance learning.

 
Honey Bee Digital Escape Distance Learning

Expedition Fourth

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
2020-11-03T20:44:55-07:00

Expedition Fourth

Thank you so much for creating this resource! It is such a fun and engaging activity for my students, especially during distance learning.   Honey Bee Digital Escape Distance Learning
My students loved this unit. I was able to present different elements of it throughout the month. It is hard to find interesting non-fictional, age-appropriate text for my students that they will enjoy. This was a great unit that aligned well for my students who have very different goals within the same group.

 
Compare and Contrast Two Texts on Reindeer

Heidi J

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
2020-11-03T20:45:49-07:00

Heidi J

My students loved this unit. I was able to present different elements of it throughout the month. It is hard to find interesting non-fictional, age-appropriate text for my students that they will enjoy. This was a great unit that aligned well for my students who have very different goals within the same group.   Compare and Contrast Two Texts on Reindeer
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Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams