Science can be tricky, but it can also be very beautiful, as was demonstrated by the ABLE Network who recently got creative using chromatography. The process, first established in the late 19th century, separates the components of a mixture revealing an aesthetically appealing array of colors. The effect can be achieved by dipping a sheet of paper or cloth in water or alcohol containing pigment, which is soaked up via capillary action. The larger molecules within the pigment will travel slowly compared to the smaller ones, which speedily spread across the substrate.
First practiced for its value in the arts, the technique was picked up by chemistry as an effective way to analyze and purify chemical solutions. The scientific application isn’t always so colorful, but, as the ABLE Network demonstrated in a recent group project, the practice can be really quite beautiful.
“The ABLE Network is a community based program that supports adults with intellectual disabilities,” said Program Manager at the ABLE Network Celine Tremblay in an email to IFLScience. “Under normal circumstances we support these adults through our five core programs of job training/work experience, recreation, transit training/pedestrian safety training, volunteer work and continuing education. Due to the pandemic, we have been unable to meet in person, so we have had to make some adjustments to our program in order to operate virtually.”
While no doubt a shame not to be meeting up in person, operating virtually has given the ABLE Network the opportunity to incorporate more science, literacy, and art-based activities into their program. They were inspired to tackle chromatography following a session where they discussed what happened when you mixed colors, realizing that it was the perfect technique for demonstrating what color is made up of.
“Using markers, water and coffee filters was not only a quick and manageable way of doing this, but it was also cost effective,” wrote Tremblay. “The participants were intrigued to see how the colours separated as the water travelled up the filter. They were able to observe that some colours such as the black separated into three or four colours, while others separated into only two colours. They were also surprised at the vibrancy of some of the colours such as the bright turquoise blue that came from the black marker.”
With such an array of beautiful colors, it’s easy to see how the team arrived at the decision to transform their coffee filters into butterflies with a little help from pipe cleaners, truly a craft box staple.
“Turning the coffee filters into colourful butterflies afterwards seemed to be quite fitting since our theme for the month of June is studying the Life Cycle of Butterflies,” said Tremblay. “The participants seemed to enjoy the activity and were proud of their creations.”
The team intends to continue their foray into the lives of butterflies with a butterfly raising kit. By watching the metamorphosis of butterflies up close, they hope to learn more about these important pollinators and use this knowledge to raise awareness about butterflies native to their region.