Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ashley. Ashley Wonders, “How do lava lamps work?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ashley!

Do you have a Lava Lamp®? If not, you’ve probably seen one at a friend’s house, on television, or in a movie. There’s something mesmerizing about watching those globs float around in that colored liquid!

These super-cool lights are generically known as liquid motion lamps. The first one was created in England in 1963 by Edward Craven-Walker. He called his creation the Astro lamp.

United States entrepreneurs Adolph Wertheimer and William M. Rubinstein brought Craven-Walker’s creation to the U.S. several years later. Their Lava Manufacturing Corporation in Chicago began to make liquid motion lamps and called them Lava Lites®. They soon became quite popular.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many young people bought liquid motion lamps. They were also popular in counterculture movements, such as the hippies. Today, they’re still a popular item. They can be seen in many dorm rooms on college campuses around the country.

Is it real lava floating in liquid motion lamps? No, of course not! Instead, it’s a special type of wax. It sure does look like lava, though, doesn’t it?

How exactly do liquid motion lamps work? They use basic scientific principles. When you flip the switch to “on,” the light bulb starts to heat up. As this happens, the special wax inside the lamp expands. Eventually, it becomes a liquid less dense than the water above it.

That’s when the wax stretches and rises. It breaks into smaller globs along the way. When it gets to the top of the lamp, it cools again, since it’s farther away from the light bulb. As it cools, it sinks back to the bottom. Then, the process repeats.

The science behind liquid motion lamps is simple, but making them is not. The wax and the water are made up of special secret ingredients. This ensures that they provide the best effect possible.

Sure, the “lava” inside the lamps isn’t real. But that doesn’t make them any less fun to watch! Would you like a lava lamp in your room? Do you think you could make your own?

Standards: NGSS.PS1.A, NGSS.PS1.B, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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