Frozen Tornadoes From Used Markers




About: A lowly geologist who likes to build stuff.

This instructable will show you how to squeeze the last bits of color out of dried out markers, and make beautiful ice blocks in the process. This is a very kid friendly project that has many teachable moments which are highlighted by text in italics.

Step 1: STEP 1: Items

Nothing too sophisticated here:
  1. Some "dried-up" markers. Darker colors work better. Washable markers are safer to use with the little ones.
  2. Pliers
  3. An empty carton or other container (any shape will do).
  4. A clear bowl or jug
  5. Spoon
  6. 2 liters of warm water

Step 2: STEP 2: Remove the Ink Foam

Break the end off the marker with a wrenching motion with the pliers. Pull out the foam and applicator and deposit them in a clear bowl filled with warm water. Many reactions (dissolution and diffusion in this case) are faster at higher temperatures. Just let them soak for 5 minutes. If you are lucky, the ink seeps out of the foam bits and creates cool patterns in the water. Squeeze the remaining ink out of the foam with your fingers or a spoon. You can cut the foam into shorter lengths to speed the diffusion of the ink into the water. Increase of surface area increases the speed of any reactions.

Step 3: Step 3: Transfer and Freeze

After 10 minutes or so you will notice that the foam bits will get pale, or even white: good enough. Now transfer the solution into your container, leave it outside to freeze (or in the freezer). The shape of the colored portion will depend on the geometry of the "crystallization front". The warmer water will rise (thermal expansion), thus allowing the bottom to freeze first to produce the narrow end of the tornado. Depending on the climate I would allow at least 24 hours to ensure that it is frozen through.

To get the block out of the container, you can simply rip it apart with your bare hands and recycle it. 

There are many interesting things going on here. The color is concentrated in the center of the ice block because the ink appears to prefer to stay as a liquid rather than within the ice crystals. Therefore the ink gets progressively concentrated in the remaining liquid until the temperature drops to the point that it also must crystallize. This process is called "Fractional Crystallization, and it is very common in earth systems: in magma chamber and seas (much of the world's deposits Iron, Titanium, Lithium were concentrated by this process). In fact, ice is considered by some as a mineral (like quartz or diamonds) and therefore liquid water is not unlike molten magma! 



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    7 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great ible. An idea comes to mind. highlighers show up well under uv light (black light). Yellow or green highlighter ink would probably look good if you put some uv light on it. Got some ink in water outside now & checking the results in the morning.

    1 reply

    6 years ago on Step 3

    Funny project, what happens if it is on a big flat surface, multiple spots? Multiple colors could be added, multiple layers,... then place it vertical with waterproof LED's, will be a piece of art!
    Maybe it also works with food coloring ingredients from Asian "toko" stores, or low-alcohol-percentage liquors, anyone tried this maybe?

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 3

    Great ideas! The shape will be governed by the shape of the freezing front, you could probably create shapes by controlling where the water is losing heat (a little blanket here, a little fan here...). When you are dealing with very flat geometries I would expect tiny imperfections in your container or solution to produce patches; you could control this to some extent by playing with temperature variation. If you were going to try multiple colors, you could apply them after freezing the previous layer. Oh and use this!/ so you don't muddle your lower layers too much. Let me know if you attempt this, I would expect it to be frustratingly imprecise...


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I think I have a big plastic container somewhere at home, first freeze 1" of 1 color, wait a day, heighten 1 end of the container with a "block", then add 2nd layer so on the deepest point there is 2" and minimal 1", then move the block to other side, fill minimal 1" to highest point of previous layer and keep repeating this...

    Dream Dragon

    6 years ago on Introduction

    That's interesting, it reminds me of a "thing" I saw about making very clear ice for sculptures, the object of course was to REMOVE the impurities, but the technique was very similar.

    1 reply

    There is a very good instructable on making clear ice:!/
    They basically use boiled purified water. I figure this has to do with removing any imperfections in the water so that a single crystal will grow (no points for nucleation).
    You can use freezing as a purification process (the brine will prefer to stay liquid as we see in the arctic ice sheets). However some nasty stuff might prefer to be in the ice... Thanks for the comment.