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Toys Science

Build Your Own Lava Lamp 197

Posted by michael
from the better-living-through-chemistry dept.
Manip writes "My new project: 'The difficult part about making your own liquid motion lamp is, of course, the motion. We won't go into the lamp base too much. The store-bought ones use a 40w appliance bulb in a metal housing which directs the heat to the underside of the glass container. If you're making your own base, we recommend installing a dimmer switch so that you can control your heat output.'"
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Build Your Own Lava Lamp

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  • by Pacer (153176) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:32PM (#6830646) Homepage Journal
    Wow, not only can you grow your own drugs, now you can make your own lava lamp.

    All the fun of enduring pop-subculture at a fraction of the price. How inspiring ... how lovely ... how un-American!
    • The two do seem to complement each other well don't they.. Now if we could only build our own plasma globes too... But I suspect that will have to wait for a while.

      • Bah, why bother with that when you can just make a few tesla coils and/or a Van der Graff generator?

        I hear they work wonders for wireless networking.
      • Re:Fun projects (Score:4, Insightful)

        by josh crawley (537561) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:06PM (#6830830)
        Now if we could only build our own plasma globes too...

        You can... flyback transformer from a television, some steel wool, and a glass globe. Maybe a handful of other Radio-Shack components and wires. The toughest part is finding a suitable globe, evacuating the air from it, and filling it with gas to make the color you want, but it can be done with mostly off-the-shelf stuff.
        • Re:Fun projects (Score:5, Interesting)

          by KI0PX (266692) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @12:50AM (#6831212)
          A computer engineering professor at my school made one out of a fishbowl. He used plexiglass and silicone to seal it shut, and built a small air compressor to evacuate the air from it.
        • Re:Fun projects (Score:2, Informative)

          by ajs318 (655362)
          You can do this! Take an old light bulb, preferably a clear one. It doesn't matter if the filament is broken. You also need a piezo gas igniter {the type used for lighting ovens when the built-in electric ignition has failed ..... pound stores sell them}, some well-insulated HT cable {spark plug cable is fine ..... obviously}, a hot-melt adhesive gun, a high-power soldering gun and various other home lab items.

          Determine which of the two contacts on the base of the bulb connects to the longer bit of
      • I knew someone in college who built it himself using a light bulb and the high voltage supply from an old TV set. Actually he built it in high school and brought it to college. It was dimmer than the store bought ones, but it worked.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Add a roll-your-own strobe light and black light, and we can open a nerd Spencer's Gifts.
    • by Kirin3 (133278) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:30PM (#6830910)
      Geeks on homegrown drugs making homegrown lava lamps...

      Hmm... and only a couple of week on the tail of this article [slashdot.org]... ;)
    • how un-American
      yeah just like we are communists for wanting to make our own operating system instead of using the offical operating system.

      After all downloading an operating system for free that permits you to change anything you please with zero restrictions what so ever...
      Thats oppression...

      Where as having no other choice but to buy Windows prepacaged with your PC in the configuration determined by Microsoft...
      Thats freedom.

      Now the question is...
      Are we in Alice in wonderland or 1984?
    • Lava Lamps? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Jonas the Bold (701271) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:37PM (#6830946)
      News for Hippies, stuff that matters
    • Re:Fun projects (Score:5, Interesting)

      by enigmiac (621541) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @05:25AM (#6831895)
      Actually, while I was a waiting tables at a diner, I discovered that by putting cubes of jello in a glass of cold seltzer, you could create a minimalistic lava lamp. If the seltzer is cold enough, the jello won't melt, and the bubbles will adhere to the cubes, causing it float, and when it reaches the top, the bubbles will pop on the surface, leaving the jello to fall back down. Pretty neat trick to impress the customers, especially if you leave it sitting on the counter.
      • Re:Fun projects (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dondelelcaro (81997) <don@donarmstrong.com> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @02:27PM (#6834029) Homepage Journal
        Actually, while I was a waiting tables at a diner, I discovered that by putting cubes of jello in a glass of cold seltzer, you could create a minimalistic lava lamp.
        The classic example is raisins in 7-UP (or sprite, slice or ...) which works pretty much the same without the need for super cooled jelo.

        Just take about 20 raisins, rinse them and dump them into a glass of clear soda. Raisins go up, raisins go down.
  • Screw Lava (Score:5, Funny)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:32PM (#6830650)
    I want a full on Volcano Lamp
  • Mirror (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:33PM (#6830652)
    In case the site is slow, here [martin-studio.com] is a mirror.

    Martin Studio Slashdot Policy [martin-studio.com]
  • Case? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BrynM (217883) * on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:33PM (#6830653) Homepage Journal
    How long will it be before someone finally does a proper case mod with this information? Lots [google.com] of folks have thought about it. I have yet to see someone who has done it though.

    How hot can an AMD chip get again?...

    • Re:Case? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Paul d'Aoust (679461)
      hmmmmmmmmm... no case mod involving a CPU as a heater, but this site [lucentrigs.com] documents the installation of a lava lamp into a very swanky stained-glass case. This site is the home of my favourite case mods in the world ^_^ Look at the very last case mod, number eight, to see the lava lamp.
    • Re:Case? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tignom (562076)
      I actually tried to convert an old Mac SE into a lava lamp. I wanted to do something cooler/more creative than the fish tank. The problem was that I couldn't find a sealant that would withstand a solution containing alcohol. I made two attempts (different solutions/sealants) before giving up. There's still some blue spots in my garage from the second attempt.
    • How practical would it be to have the lava lamp set up as a liquid-cooling system for the CPU??

  • by Tsali (594389) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:33PM (#6830656)
    How many /.'ers actually own a lava lamp?

    Good.

    Now, how many of those who raised their hand are involved in a relationship with someone.

    Ahhh. You in the back. Anyone else? Good.

    Thanks.
  • Dimmer (Score:5, Informative)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:37PM (#6830673)
    If you're making your own base, we recommend installing a dimmer switch so that you can control your heat output.'"

    A good thing to do even with the store bought ones. I use an X10 lamp dimmer on mine, but have also used a wall mount lamp dimmer to replace a wall switch for a friend. After these things get hot they generally get very active and it results in too many too small blobs of lava to be enjoyable. With a dimmer you can adjust the flow to suit your preferences even when the lamp warns up.

    • Re:Dimmer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TClevenger (252206) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:04PM (#6830813)
      Same here. My lava lamp tends to make everything stay near the top of the lamp, and doesn't get good flow. The bulbs tend to burn out every four weeks or so. I experimented with different bulbs, and it didn't help. A dimmer is essential for good results.

      Also get a timer, since they don't recommend running the lamp more than 10 hours a day. Mine was set to come on 30 minutes before I got to work, and shut off five minutes after I left.

      • It sounds like you have a general over-heating problem if you are having both of those symptoms at once.

        I had problems like this a few years back with a generic lamp. I resolved the problem, initially, by putting the lamp in a cooler part of the room, under an AC vent. I later made a permanent fix by drilling 4 3/8" holes on the lamp's base, next to the bulb. This allowed enough hot air to escape to keep things around the right tempurature, even after many hours of continuous use.

        Having owned a number of
  • by niko9 (315647) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:37PM (#6830674)
    Make your own Tie Dye T-shirts!

    Also, the top 10 best ways of looking like RMS!
    • First you take the tie you're going to dye and tie it. When the tie is tightly tied, you dip the tie in the tie-dye dye! Ooh! When the tie-dyed tie is dried, you take the dye you just applied and set it aside. Re-tie the tie-dyed tie, take another dye, dip the re-tied tie in this dye, too. Take it out, let it dry, untie the tie, and you've got a tie-dyed tie. And a tie's not all you can tie-dye. You can tie-dye a tutu, too! Take the tutu, tie the tutu, dip it in the dye, let it dry like the tie we

  • The real question is whether or not you can make it edible. Extra points if it tastes good while heated!
  • by wideBlueSkies (618979) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:45PM (#6830727) Journal
    So now I can build my own lava lamp, smoke grass, and have my very own source of Random Numbers [slashdot.org].

    Cool. cough. cough. Anyone got a clip?

    wbs.
  • After reading that it was made out of an Ernest and Julio Gallo bottle -

    I realised I was white trash!

    Pass the 6-pack, Joe

    Damn - and I always thought Gallo was nice wine?

    • Actually, you should check them up in Wine Spectator. Ernest and Julio is mediocre at best. Julio did have a daughter though. Her name is Sara. She makes very good value priced wine and has won many, many awards. It goes by the name Gallo of Sonoma. They make the best chardonnay ever. Any ways...

      Ernest & Julio: -1, crap.
      Gallo of Sonoma: +1, great.

      In her price class, her wine is easily the best value. Hope this was interesting to someone on /.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:52PM (#6830768)
    Actually, lava lamps are cool from a scientific point of view too : they are considered a very good source of randomness for RNGs [lavarnd.org].

    Very shaggadelic ...
  • by breon.halling (235909) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:57PM (#6830787)

    ... here's a litt bit [virginia.edu] about making those crazy lightshows from the sixties.

  • A chocolate bar, some turkey fat, glass tube, tincan, some wire... What else?
  • Worst summary ever. (Score:2, Informative)

    by aardvarkjoe (156801)
    What kind of a summary/description was that supposed to be?
  • My Project. (Score:5, Funny)

    by magores (208594) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:16PM (#6830855) Journal
    I've been working on a perpetual motion machine. But it seems like its taking forever and a day.

  • Useless! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Stephen Samuel (106962) <samuel AT bcgreen DOT com> on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:28PM (#6830902) Homepage Journal
    If I wanted a great oozing mass bouncing around my living room and changing shape randomly, I'd invite McBride or one of his SCO PR lackeys over.

    (Not enought SCO news today.. I really HAD to do something to get my fix)

    • If I wanted a great oozing mass bouncing around my living room and changing shape randomly, I'd invite McBride or one of his SCO PR lackeys over.

      You misspelled "Cowboy Neal". Hope this helps.
  • by meowsqueak (599208) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:34PM (#6830932)
    ...is because they were found to be responsible for numerous house fires. I suspect the modern ones are far safer than those made in the 1970's, but I'd expect a home-made one to be potentially quite dangerous.

    So I guess /. is the right place for it! :)

  • Radio Shack (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You can get a Lava Lamp for $10 at Radio Shack.
  • Carbon Tetrachloride (Score:5, Informative)

    by bobbozzo (622815) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:49PM (#6831004)
    The patented formula uses carbon tetrachloride... VERY toxic and carcinogenic stuff. It used to be used as a cleaning agent until the FDA banned it in the 70's, IIRC.
    • We made one in my Organic I lab in college. We used dibutyl-phalate (sp?) and water with some salt to adjust specific gravity. I found some Sudan Red to dye the phalate and methyl orange to dye the water. We set it up each week before lab; it was sweet.
  • Not sure why there is a warning about making the Lava Lamps for profit because of patents. At least in the US, both patents listed in the disclaimer are expired. 25 years is the maximum protection.
  • by jcgf (688310)
    Damn...all the interesting stories appear on slashdot always show up after a huge bong hoot and a guy needs a HUGE one after that depressing outsourcing story.
  • by Alton_Brown (577453) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @12:02AM (#6831051)
    I posted this years ago and it still survives. NOTE: I did not originally post this, but I saved a text file at some point and I am now credited as the "owner" of this though I still give credit to an unknown source. For those who know me, this will divulge my secret identity ;)

    From: stormoen@sparc.isl.net (Stormoen MD)
    Newsgroups: alt.drugs
    Subject: Lava Lamp Plans Here.
    Date: 13 Jan 1995 08:08:15 GMT
    Message-ID:


    I've had SEVERAL requests for the plans, so here they are.

    Sorry, I guess I lost the name of the guy who gave 'em to me.

    (I recieved two versions, and I liked this one best).

    WARNING!! This electronic document deals with and involves subject matter and the use of materials and substances that may be hazardous to health and life. Do not attempt to implement or use the information contained herein unless you are experienced and skilled with respect to such subject matter, materials and substances. The author makes no representations as for the completeness or the accuracy of the information contained herein and disclaim any liability for damages or injuries, whether caused by or arising from the lack of completeness, inaccuracies of the information, misinterpretation of the directions, misapplication of the information or otherwise.

    Please note: The information contained in this electronic document can be found in the 1992 Edition of Popular Electronics Electronics Hobbyists handbook, published annually by Gernsback Publications Inc, USA.

    Inside a lava lamp are two immiscible fluids. If it is assumed that fluid 1 is water, then fluid 2 must be:
    • 1) insoluble in water;
    • 2) heavier than water;
    • 3) non-flammable (for safety);
    • 4) non-reactive with water or air;
    • 5) more viscous than water;
    • 6) reasonably priced.

    Furthermore, fluid 2 must not be:

    • 1) very poisonous (for safety);
    • 2) chlorinated;
    • 3) emulsifiable in water (for rapid separation).

    In addition, fluid 2 must have a greater coefficient of expansion than water. Check a Perry's handbook of Chemical Engineering, and the above list eliminates quite a few possibilities.

    Here is a list of possible chemicals to use:

    • 1) benzyl alcohol (sp.g. 1.043, bp 204.7 deg. C, sl. soluble);
    • 2) cinnamyl alcohol (sp. g. 1.04, bp 257.5 deg. C, sl. soluble);
    • 3) diethyl phthalate (sp. g. 1.121, bp 298 deg. C, insoluble);
    • 4) ethyl salicylate (sp. g. 113, bp 233 deg. C, insoluble).

    If desired, use a suitable red oil-soluble dye to color fluid 2. A permanent felt-tip pen is a possible source. Break open the pen and put the felt in a beaker with fluid 2.

    It is recommended to use benzyl alcohol as fluid 2. (Caution!! Do not come into contact with benzyl alcohol either by ingestion, skin, or inhalation.) In addition to water, the following items will be necessary:

    • 1) sodium chloride (table salt);
    • 2) a clear glass bottle, about 10 inches (25.4 cm) high;
    • 3) a 40 watt light bulb and ceramic light fixture;
    • 4) a 1 pint (473 ml) tin can or larger;
    • 5) plywood;
    • 6) 1/4 inch (0.635 cm) thick foam-rubber;
    • 7) AC plug with 16 gauge lamp wire;
    • 8) hardware;
    • 9) light dimmer (optional);
    • 10) small fan (optional).

    The performance of the lava lamp will depend on the quality of the water used. A few experiments must be conducted to determine how much sodium chloride is necessary to increase the water's specific gravity. Try a 5% salt concentration first (50 g of salt to 1 liter of water). Pour the red-dyed benzyl alcohol mixture in a Pyrex beaker. Add an equal or greater amount of water

  • by combinatorics (588370) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @12:11AM (#6831078)
    Now I can build something that:

    o has no documentation about it's foundation
    o is a potential fire hazzard

    and pay more than what a well engineered alternative would cost.

    Sounds like M$ to me.

  • by LINM (255706)
    FWIW, the reason that you want a dimmer switch is that:

    If the light is to hot -> the viscous fluid that you observe tends to turn into tons of small bubbles that go all over the place in not that cool of a way.
    If the light is too cold -> nothing will really happen.
    If the light is just right -> you'll get the sexy phallic undulating viscous membrane that women tend to prefer. Slight variations on this can be controlled with the switch.

    Just an FYI....
  • Lava lamps are a particular good example of the behavior of atmospheric and fluid dynamics.

    The Navier-Stokes Equations and Brunt Vaisala frequency come to mind.

    Of course this simplifies down to F = MA.

    God Bless Newton.
  • this guy was voted most likely to open a meth lab.

    well... hes almost there, a lil more carcinogenic though I think.

  • I always thought they were much cooler then lava lamps. I used to have the formula when I was a kid. But my mother threw it out just because it was toxic!
    • Here's the recipe: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Cid Highwind (9258)
      1/2L Kerosene
      1/2L Water
      Blue food dye

      Pour water into approx. 1L glass or plastic container. Add blue food dye to taste. Float kerosene on top. (pouring it over the back of a spoon may help here) Seal container tightly, and shake gently to simulate rolling ocean waves.
    • I once made a pocket version using turpentine and colored water. I used one of the small square bottles of turpentine that comes with Testors model paints. It was half full, so all I had to do was add enough colored water to fill it up. I used to carry it in my pocket everywhere I went, pulling it out during a dull moment (usually junior high math class) and tipping it back and forth.
  • An outdoor lava lamp.

    I have some ideas, like taking a regular lamp and putting it inside a glass lantern/box, but there are probably some problems with getting the temperature right.

  • by Goonie (8651) * <robert.merkel@TI ... ra.org minus cat> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @03:00AM (#6831595) Homepage
    What kind of environmental vandal uses an incandescent bulb in a lava lamp? What right do you have to pollute the world by your wanton waste?

    With compact flourescent bulbs, there is now absolutely no excuse to emit all that completely pointless waste heat to illuminate your lava lamp! The lamp will be cheaper to run, and the bulb will last longer too!

    Just such an American thing to do...

    • Yeah, you tell 'em! Why on earth would anyone want their lava lamp to get hot, I mean come on, who needs that stuff on the bottom to melt anyway. It just looks so nice their on the bottom. Let's do away with the bulb entirely, light up the lava lamp with a LED, all you really want to do is look at water anyway right?

      Anyway, I really hope you were joking. The reason you use such a bulb is because the stuff on the bottom of the lava lamp needs to get really hot before it'll start melting and floating t
  • Breaking News:

    All over the world, intelligence agencies are reporting localized explosions which the CIA believe to be part of a terrorist plot.
    The source has been traced to the undergound web site 'The Slashdot' in which people were encoraged to build an incendery device with the following instructions:

    1. For the Blobby bit, use a wax based solution

    2. For the fluid, use something of lesser density (Petroleum would be a good start)

    3. Place in sealed glass container

    4. Heat over Bunsen Burner

    Police spo
  • by alext (29323)
    I pass Mathmos HQ every day - nice window display [mathmos.com].

    They invented the lava lamp back in 1963, and are still going despite having to spend a fortune stopping far east manufacturers ripping off their designs. Quite a cute site so worth a plug.
  • This is slashdot for God sakes, we want an article on how to make a lava lamp with real LAVA!
  • Does anyone remember those water wave machines with blue and white fluid (water/oil?) in them?

    I'd really like to find out how to make one of them.

    Always thought is was colored water & oil but I was rather young in the 70's
  • Way back when I was doing my O-levels {shows age ..... O-levels were what we had before GCSE's} my school physics department had a cadmium-vapour lamp. This glew with a particularly wonderful electric-blue colour.

    I have never been able to find one. I wouldn't mind one though ..... even though it used some sort of high voltage power supply and toxic cadmium, that colour really made it worth all the dangers. {I think, from my spectroscopy experiment I did, that there is one red, one green, one blue a

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