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How Does A Lava Lamp Work?

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Oscar De La Huerte Profile
Lava lamps (which are also known as liquid motion lamps) work on a very basic principle.

They work by taking two liquids that have the following properties:

  • They are both insoluble in each other
  • They both have similar density
The insolubility of the two liquids is very important. It is the reason you see two very distinct shapes and colours rather than a gradual blend.
Oil and water are two household items that are insoluble. If you've ever poured oil into water, you'll notice how the two liquids remain separate instead of mixing into each other. Lava lamps work in much the same way.

What makes a lava lamp work?


When you turn a lava lamp on, a bulb at the bottom of the canister lights up. This heats up the liquid at the bottom which expands and starts rising to the top of the container.

As it rises, the liquid cools down and starts falling to the bottom and the cycle repeats itself over and over again. The closeness in density of the substances is important for them to interact in this way.
Louise Gorman Profile
Louise Gorman answered
The lava lamp has an illuminating bulb, a glass bottle which contains a transparent oil and translucent wax, and a metallic wire coil.

The glass bottle is placed on top of the bulb, which heats the contents. The metallic wire coil is hidden in the base of the lamp. The wax is denser than the oil at room temperature, and slightly less dense than the oil under warmer conditions. This is because the wax expands more than the oil when heated.

When the lava lamp is switched on, the bulb heats the bottom of the glass bottle and the metallic wire coil, which heats the contents of the glass bottle in the vicinity.

The wax at the bottom heats until it melts, and becomes less dense than the liquid above it. A portion of wax rises towards the top of the container. At the top, away from the heat source, the wax cools and contracts, and as its density increases, it falls through the liquid and back to the bottom of the container again.

A portion of wax may rise as another falls. The movement of the wax is unpredictable due to chaotic behaviour. Because of this, lava lamps can be used as a physical random number generator.
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered
The wax gets hot, rises and, at the top of the glass container, it cools and the density is increased and it starts to fall.

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Anonymous