The Chemistry of Lava Lamps

The thing I chose for the Chemistry of is lava lamps.  Lava lamps are a transparent electric lamp containing a viscous liquid in which a brightly colored waxy substance is suspended, rising and falling in irregular and constantly changing shapes.  I chose to do lava lamps because I think that lava lamps are very interesting and cool. I myself own a lava lamp, a red one in fact, and I enjoy having it.

Composition of ...
CnH2n+2.  Is the paraffin wax.  And CCl4 is the carbon tetrachloride.  H2O is the water.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components
There are not much to a lava lamp there is: water, mineral oils, paraffin wax, and carbon tetrachloride.

Chemistry's Role
This is how chemistry plays in lava lamps.  First the carbon tetrachloride is used to weigh the wax down because it is heavier than water.  The heat from the incandescent light bulb makes the wax expand and start to float to the top. When it reaches the top it is much cooler so the wax cools off and regain density and starts to fall again and as it starts to fall again it gets hotter since it is falling towards the light.  Then it keeps repeating that until it is turned off.  

Background Research
The two main ingredients are Water and wax like paraffin wax. And the carbon tetrachloride plays a big part in it too.  Carbon tetrachloride is a poisonous compound. It is formed by a reaction between Chloroform and Chlorine. Water is very naturally occuring.  Paraffin wax is not naturally occuring and it has to be made. To make paraffin wax you have to have some slack wax, which is a mixture of oil and wax.  Now you remove the oil from the slack wax. And to do that you need to crystallize it. Which can be done by heating it and mixing it with one or more solvents such as a ketone and then cool it.  Now when it is cooling wax crystals start to come out of the solution leaving only the oil behind. After the solvent is recovered by distillation, the resulting products are called “product wax” and “foots oil”.  The product wax may be further processed to remove colors and odors. You can now blend the wax together to give certain desired properties such as melt point and penetration. BAM. Now you have your own paraffin wax or you can buy some in liquid or solid form.  Now the the lava lamp is man-made. The whole reason the lamp works is because of the heat and density. If it weren’t for the heat to make the wax rise and expand it would be just a colored wax in a glass.



  • Ingredients

  • How it works

  • Information on the chemicals

  • How to make the wax

About the Author

Armando Guerrero is a junior at Billings Senior High School.  He was born November 10, 2000 in Billings, Montana. He has lived in Billings all his life.  He enjoys playing video games and all sorts of other games and listening to music. In high school he was involved in the band.  He plays the clarinet and saxophone. He was an average kid in high school with average grades.