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STEM Activity: Hydro-Dipped Science Gift

STEM Activities

The holidays are just around the corner, so let your creativity flow as you explore principles of fluid dynamics to create a one-of-a-kind gift! Dip a canvas panel or ceramic into a swirl of spray paint to reveal a beautiful masterpiece.


Materials Needed

  • Large bin or bucket
  • Canvas panels or ceramic tiles (8-by-10 inches or smaller)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Enamel spray paint, various colors
  • Paper towels
  • Particulate mask
  • Plastic drop cloth or old plastic tablecloth
  • Safety goggles
  • Water


At-Home or In-Classroom Instructions

  1. Select a canvas panel or ceramic tile. If the tile has a glossy coating, be sure to spray it with a matte finish ahead of time and allow to dry to a tacky stage. It is good to have more than one item so that you can experiment. Experimenting with materials is important in art, just like in science!
  1. Choose an area that is very well ventilated. Select a large bin or bucket. The bin or bucket should be large enough to allow you to submerge the canvas or tile. Fill the bin or bucket three-quarters full of water. Creating these masterpieces is fun, but it can also be messy. Place a tarp or plastic tablecloth on your working surface or floor, especially if experimenting indoors.
  2. Wear clothing you don’t mind getting messy. Put on a pair of disposable gloves to protect your hands, safety goggles to protect your eyes, and an inexpensive particulate mask to protect your lungs.
  1. Choose your favorite colors of spray paint and spray the surface of the water in your bin or bucket. Choose another color of spray paint and spray some more! Continue until you are satisfied with the look of the paint on the surface of the water. If you don’t like the look of the paint on the surface, use a paper towel to remove the paint and start again
  1. Now it’s time to create your masterpiece! Slowly lower the canvas or tile at an angle through the paint. Be sure to lower it slowly so that the paint adheres to the surface of the canvas or tile.
  1. Once the canvas or tile has been entirely dipped through the paint, pull it out of the water. If you don’t want any more paint on your tile or canvas, pull it through the surface of the water where there is not much paint. Then, set it aside to dry.
  1. Experiment with different paint colors to see what happens! Try moving or swirling the colors before dipping. Let your gift dry and wrap it for delivery!


What Are We Discovering?

Why does the spray paint float? Simply put, it’s because oil and water separate when combined. The Archimedes principle helps us understand this phenomenon, and states that “any body complete or partially submerged in a fluid (gas or liquid) at rest is acted upon by an upward, or buoyant, force the magnitude of which is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the body.” Because oil is less dense than water, this causes the oil-based spray paint to skim on top of the water. Because oils are hydrophobic, or “water- fearing,” the water and the paint undergo a separation process.

Many inventors view art and science as interconnected, and many draw inspiration from the arts. National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Samuel Morse, who invented Morse code and the telegraph, was a portrait painter. NIHF Inductee Radia Perlman has a passion for playing the piano. NIHF Inductee Hedy Lamarr was a famous actress, and her co-invention of a frequency-hopping signal was a stepping-stone on the path to modern wireless communication. Often, the creative activities you engage in can inspire new ideas and potential inventions!


Looking for More STEM Activities?

Discover more fun and educational science activities by reading our blog or by visiting our Camp Invention® Facebook page.

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