"The artists of the Renaissance said that man's main concern should be for man, and yet there are other things of interest in the world. Even the artists appreciate sunsets, and the ocean waves and the march of the stars across the heavens. There is then some reason to talk of other things sometimes. As we look into these things we get an aesthetic pleasure from them directly on observation. There is also a rhythm and a pattern which is not apparent to the eye, but only to the eye of analysis; and it is these rhythms and patterns which we call Physical Laws." - Richard Feynman, 1965

Frozen Film

An activity from Dave Mastie (Ann Arbor, MI)

Type of Lesson: Hands-on Activity/Discussion

Time Needed: 15 minutes

Standards Addressed

Earth and Space Science, Grades 5-8: Water, which covers the majority of the earth’s surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the water cycle. Water evaporates from the earth’s surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.

Physical Science, Grades K-4: Objects have many observable properties, including size, weight, shape, color, temperature, and the ability to react with other substances. Those properties can be measured using tools, such as rulers, balances, and thermometers.

Physical Science, Grades K-4: Light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object. Light can be reflected by a mirror, refracted by a lens, or absorbed by the object.

Physical Science, Grades 5-8: Light interacts with matter by transmission (including refraction), absorption, or scattering (including reflection). To see an object, light from the object-emitted by or scattered from it-must be enter the eye.

Quick Summary of Lesson

This activity could act as an introduction to a discussion on light interference or more simply it could be used to show how light reflects off of 2 surfaces (the top and bottom of the film) creating lots of real world links.


a dish or bowl
dark construction paper (1/4 sheet is fine)
masking tape
clear fingernail polish
tap water
paper towel


(If you run into trouble, take a look at our photo page for help!)

1. Fill container 3/4 full of tap water.
2. Press masking tape onto sheet of construction paper so it acts as a handle to pull construction paper out of water.
3. Place construction paper under water, but leave masking tape handle above water.
4. Add one drop of clear fingernail polish.
5. Remove construction paper by lifting on masking tape handle. Allow nail polish film to run over surface of paper. Caution: Take care in lifting the film off onto the paper because the film tends to slide off easily!
6. Allow your paper to dry on the paper towel.

Notes to the Teacher

You can see step-by-step images of the activity here.

Use this activity as a "teaser" to a discussion on light and light interference. When the drop of fingernail polish is dropped onto the surface of water, it spreads out forming a film on top of the water. When the paper is pulled out of the water, it captures the rainbow of colors (it "freezes" the film of colors!). This color display is like the oil films we see at gas stations, the mother-of-pearl inside seashells and soap bubble surfaces. Note: dark colors of construction paper will work best for this activity!

For elementary students, teachers have found it fun to do this exercise when making thank you cards. Other colors of construction paper can be used (full sheets if wanted by using a 9x13 pan) as base for thank you cards or art lessons! If you use a whole sheet, students may be able to draw on top of the frozen film right after it is taken out of the water. This is neat for making Easter egg decorations or faces or....

For advanced students, you may want to discuss that interference is defined as the mutual effect of two wave trains that meet, resulting in the loss of intensity in certain regions and a reinforcement of intensity in other regions. Isaac Newton was one of the first to experiment with thin films and their effect on color. When viewed by reflected white light, thin transparent soap films, oil slicks and layers of shell show varying patterns of colors. These variations in color are due to the interference of light waves.

Need More Information? Try Using Windows to the Universe

Please use these links for further ideas or more information:
Electromagnetic Radiation
The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Looking at the World in a Different LightA tour full of enLIGHTning information!
A Peak into the Lives of StarsA great source of information on light that comes from stars...
Thomas EdisonA scientist who worked with light...
Willhelm RoentgenAnother scientist who worked with light...

Last modified March 15, 2002 by the Windows Team

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