Education Resources

Make Your Own Convection

The process of convection can be difficult to see because it is difficult to see how a fluid moves all by itself. Things can be added to the fluid, however, that will be carried along by the motion of the fluid and make it possible to see the fluid flow.
Always have an adult help with these experiments!
Convection in Cooking Oil

Cooking (vegetable) oil
Petri dish or beaker
Pie Pan Convection

Food Coloring
Pearlized shampoo, liquid soap, etc.
Aluminum pie pan
Pour a thin layer (only 1-2 millimeters) of oil into the petri dish or beaker. Place the dish or beaker onto the hotplate, and heat the oil at a low temperature. (Convection cells will not form at high temperatures.) Look for motion in the fluid. Now, add a few sprinkles of cinnamon to the oil, and stir it around. Watch as the cinnamon starts to flow with the oil and outline convection cells! Fill the pie pan halfway with water and add a few drops of food coloring (any color). Add 3-5 squirts of shampoo or liquid soap and stir until the shampoo or soap breaks up into small clumps. Place the pie pan onto the hotplate and heat the mixture at a low temperature. (Convection cells will not form at high temperatures.) Watch the clumps of shampoo or soap move with the fluid and try to identify the boundaries of the convection cells.