For Educators

Two Lenses in One
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Learn About

lenses | light | refraction

Materials Needed

1 plastic vial and lid; sink or small bucket of water; one white sheet of paper with text; 2 pens or markers of different colors


1. Fill the vial to the top with water. Cap the vial tightly. Allow one small bubble of air in the vial.

2. Explore! What do things look like through the clear vial of water? Lay the vial on various objects and look at them through the vial. For example, what does the palm of your hand or cover of a book look like through the water-filled vial?

3. What do printed words on a page in a book or work sheet look like through the vial? Make and test your predictions! Can you figure out why the vial filled with water acts like a magnifier?

4. What happens when you slowly move the vial of water away from printed text? Make and test your predictions. Why do the letters in the words turn upside down?

5. Write the words OHIO FUN on a piece of paper using a different colored pen for each word. Make sure they are printed neatly with all letters capitalized, and small enough so you can see the entire phrase when you look through the vial. Predict what will happen to these two words when you slowly move the vial away from them. Tell someone sitting next to you what your prediction is; then, go ahead and test your prediction. Why does "OHIO" appear normal, while "FUN" turns upside down?

6. Do you notice an air bubble in your vial? What does OHIO FUN look like through the air bubble? Describe what you see. Why do the words appear smaller? What happens when you look at one word through the air bubble and the other word through the water?


Now, explore! Are there other liquids that can act as a magnifier? Would a clear plastic pop bottle filled with water work as a magnifying lens? Continue exploring at home or school with the water lens!

What's Going On

Light rays change direction when they pass at an angle from one transparent substance to another. In Illustration A, light rays are reflected from the letters written on the paper. When the rays pass from the water in the vial to the curved inside wall of the vial, they are bent, or refracted. The curved vial acts as a concave lens, causing light rays to spread out. Hence, the image appears larger.

Ohio Content Standards

Physical Science: 5.5
OSIC Codes: Y2002.CSC.S05.G03-05.BF.L05.I05
  • Added: November 29, 2011
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