ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — In this episode of Science with Shields, Christy Shields shows you why leaves change color in the fall using chromatography.

What you need: 

  1. Different types of leaves
  2. Rubbing Alcohol
  3. Glasses
  4. Coffee Filters
  5. Scissors


Label your types of leaves, and separate them by leaf type. Cut up a leaf into tiny pieces and put it into a glass. (The smaller the leaf is cut up the better the experiment will turn out.) Do this for every type of leaf into separate glasses. Next, add rubbing alcohol to just cover the tops of the cut-up leaves. Mix this and try to mash it a little more. Next, make a coffee filter into a cone shape. Put a different coffee filter into the top of every glass with the point part down. Now, let it sit for over 12 hours, and take notice of what happens to the coffee filter. You should see green color on the coffee filter and then slowly to the top it should turn a light yellow, light orange, or light red.


We used chromatography for this experiment. Chromatography is the process of separating a “mixture.” The rubbing alcohol, transported chlorophyll and the actual color of the leaves onto the coffee filter. Chlorophyll is what plants use to absorb energy and get nutrients. In the fall as trees prepare for winter, they stop their nutrient process and the Chlorophyll breaks down. Chlorophyll is green in color, that is why you see a lot of green at the bottom of the coffee filter. The yellow, orange, or red is what the true color of the tree is, and what you will see in the fall. We did the same thing with this experiment but used the rubbing alcohol as the agent to break down the chlorophyll to show you what color your leaves should change in the autumn! Try it out and let us know how the experiment goes!

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