Making Turbulence Patterns

This activity was created by Exploratorium staff based on the artwork "Turbulent Orb" by Ned Kahn.

What You'll Need:

  • A small clear plastic bottle with a tight-fitting cap--the more rounded the bottle, the better.
  • Liquid hand soap that has glycol stearate in it (such as Colgate-Palmolive's Softsoap©). Any brand with glycol stearate will work--check the ingredients on the label.
  • Food coloring
  • Clear tape

Step 1:
Fill the bottle about 1/4 full with liquid soap.

Step 2:
Add a drop or two of food coloring.

Step 3:
Turn on your faucet so you have just a trickle of water. Use that to fill up the rest of the bottle. (If you you the water too hard, you'll get foam.) Make sure to fill the bottle all the way to the very top.

Step 4:
Screw the cap on the bottle upside-down a few times to mix the soap and water. If you get foam, take the cap off and trickle some more water into the bottle. The foam will run over the edge. Recap the bottle tightly.

Step 5:
Dry the bottle, then wrap clear tape around the top so the bottle won't leak.

Step 5:
Twirl and shake the bottle to see smooth streakes and turbulent swirls.

Turbulent Orb

Turbulent Orb by Ned Kahn.

This image shows patterns created by flowing liquids. It was included, among a number of other pieces by Ned Kahn, in the Exploratorium's 1998 Turbulent Landscapes exhibition.


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