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Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab
written by Rebecca Vieyra and Caroline Hall
This cross-disciplinary lesson blends physics, chemistry, and life science as students use liquid from glow sticks to investigate RGB color addition. The purpose of the activity is to promote understanding of the difference between mixing the primary colors of light (red, green, and blue) and mixing paint pigment. Activated glow sticks are light-emitting objects; thus, mixing different glow stick colors will produce RGB color addition, which is not possible with paint or other pigmented light-reflecting objects. This lesson was inspired by the following articles in The Physics Teacher journal: "Glow Sticks: Spectra and Color Mixing", by J. Birriel and I. Birriel; and "As Easy as R.B.G.", by L. Parsons.
Editor's Note: Glow sticks produce an example of chemiluminescence, an exothermic reaction in which energy is released in the form of light without heat.

Safety Precautions: Wear gloves and safety goggles when handling the chemicals in a light stick. H2O2 is an oxidizing agent that can cause skin irritation. The fluorescent dyes are considered toxic and must not be ingested. Never try to open a glow stick with your mouth. When opening a glow stick and breaking the glass vial inside, make sure you wear safety goggles to prevent shards of glass or chemicals from reaching the eye.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Color
Other Sciences
- Chemistry
- Life Sciences
- High School
- Middle School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
- Assessment Material
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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Safety Warnings
Eye Protection Must be Worn   Safety Gloves Must be worn   General Danger  

Intended Users:
Access Rights:
Available by subscription
Available to members of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Link to join: http://aapt.org/Membership/joining.cfm
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.
Rights Holder:
American Association of Physics Teachers
additive colors, chemiluminescence, color addition, exothermic reaction
Record Creator:
Metadata instance created June 1, 2017 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
June 5, 2017 by joseph muse
Last Update
when Cataloged:
July 15, 2016

Next Generation Science Standards

Matter and Its Interactions (MS-PS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred. (MS-PS1-2)

From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes (MS-LS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories. (MS-LS1-8)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Chemical Reactions (PS1.B)
  • Substances react chemically in characteristic ways. In a chemical process, the atoms that make up the original substances are regrouped into different molecules, and these new substances have different properties from those of the reactants. (6-8)
  • Some chemical reactions release energy, others store energy. (6-8)
Electromagnetic Radiation (PS4.B)
  • When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object's material and the frequency (color) of the light. (6-8)
Information Processing (LS1.D)
  • Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Cause and Effect (K-12)
  • Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. (9-12)
Structure and Function (K-12)
  • Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem. (9-12)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (9-12)
    • Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects. (9-12)
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Record Link
AIP Format
R. Vieyra and C. Hall, , 2016, WWW Document, (https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694).
R. Vieyra and C. Hall, Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab, , 2016, <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694>.
APA Format
Vieyra, R., & Hall, C. (2016). Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694
Chicago Format
Vieyra, Rebecca, and Caroline Hall. "Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab." 2016. https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694 (accessed 2 December 2021).
MLA Format
Vieyra, Rebecca, and Caroline Hall. Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab. 2016. 2 Dec. 2021 <https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694>.
BibTeX Export Format
@techreport{ Author = "Rebecca Vieyra and Caroline Hall", Title = {Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab}, Month = {July}, Year = {2016} }
Refer Export Format

%A Rebecca Vieyra %A Caroline Hall %T Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab %D July 15, 2016 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694 %O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Report %A Vieyra, Rebecca %A Hall, Caroline %D July 15, 2016 %T Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab %8 July 15, 2016 %U https://www.compadre.org/Repository/document/ServeFile.cfm?ID=14332&DocID=4694

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The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

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Glowstick Science: Glowstick Color Lab:

Accompanies Candy Science: Color and Reflection

A link to Part 2 of the AAPT Color Science trilogy, which covers CMY Color Subtraction.

relation by Caroline Hall

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