Build your endless volcano!

A volcano? At home? Why not!

During the “Fête de la Science” event in Paris we showed that volcanoes can be represented in a quite easy way. We can draw their internal and external structure in a simple sketch, as high school students (along with some professors) did during the“Draw me a Volcano” workshop activity. However, their real structure is more complicated and it might seem difficult to build a 3D volcano. Just by using some scientific aspects, imagination, creativity and basic material we can build our own volcano. So… Let’s make one!Here is a small article that will give you an idea of how to build an endless volcano at home. It will fit your Zen garden perfectly!

Approximately 2 hours are needed after coming up with the idea of what you want it to look like.

Material is cheap and quite easy to find in any supermarket/office/house:

–          Plastic sheet
–          Candles
–          Tape
–          Scissors
–          Paints
–          Paint brush
–          Fish tank water pump
–          Plastic tube
–          Container (Cooking aluminium container in this case)

The concept: You will be building an effusive oceanic island volcano. You will need a container about 5 cm high at least where the volcano will be sitting in (the ocean!). The water pump will endlessly bring the water (lava) to erupt from the volcano.

The first step of building your volcano is to give it a nice shape. Let’s start with a conic structure. We cut the plastic sheet into a rounded shape, cut one radius (Fig. 1), and roll it up into a cone. Tape the cone so that it doesn’t move afterwards (Fig. 2).

Figure 1                                                                                 Figure 2

The next step is already making the volcano look better! Since a volcano is not exactly a perfect cone, we will try to make its surface texture a bit rough. You might have wondered why there were candles in the “needed material”? The molten wax will create a natural flow texture (Fig.3) while cooling on the slopes of the cone (volcano!). Also, the wax is waterproof and we will be playing with water later. In order not to close the top hole of your cone with all the wax, the best thing is to immediately assemble the plastic tube (which corresponds to the output of the water pump) with the cone (Fig. 3-4).

Figure 3                                                                     Figure 4

OK! You should have a nice rocky-looking volcano by now (if everything went as planned). Now comes the painting part. You can spend a very long time on it if you want a volcano as realistic as possible. A good thing to know is that the wax is water repellent, hence hard to paint. The painting will be easier with a “dry” paint. A sponge can be really useful to apply “diffuse” colour on the wax (Fig. 5-6).

TIP: If you want to paint it permanently, avoid using water-based paints, because these are NOT waterproof and will wash away with your erupting water (lava!). However, a good point of water paint is that when it dissolves, it gives a more realistic colour to the erupted water. But you will lose all the colour from the wax in about 20 minutes, as we tested while building this volcano. So dissolving or not dissolving paint? That’s your call, after all everybody has a different taste in terms of homemade volcanoes!

Figure 5                                                                   Figure 6

Nice! The volcano should look really great! (Imagination might be needed here.) Hide the water pump into the volcanic cone and assemble it with the outcome tube being the magma channel going to the surface. Cut the tube as much as possible, we don’t need to see it.

Practical issues: To be functional, the volcano has to sit in water (so that the water pump doesn’t breathe air, bad for its health!). That is why the whole model has to be in a container that you will fill with water (Fig. 7). After all, your volcano is an oceanic island!

You can keep on decorating and painting the container as well in order to have a fully “natural” environment! (We didn’t, sorry.) There’s really no limit to how much you can make it look cool!

Now everything should be ready, you just need to turn the pump on and admire your volcano spitting water all around!

Figure 7

One obvious problem: the lava has no colour. In order to give a realistic colour to the water, two  different reservoirs are needed: one with coloured water (lava) and one with oceanic water. We decided to  keep the model simple and we could not come up with a system changing the water in lava. An idea could be to add a red light inside the volcano, to have a red water at the exit, but the easier is to choose between having an ocean of magma (by putting food colorants in the water) and having a water volcano.

We hope this small tutorial was clear and that we will all end up with an awesome volcano at home!

Send us your own pictures and/or videos of home-made volcanoes to searocksblog@gmail .com !

Written by Carlotta and Valentin

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