Corn syrup kaleidoscope

Use polarizing filters to see your surroundings in a new light!

30 minutes
Corn syrup kaleidoscope


  • Carefully review the general safety advice in the instruction book before starting the experiment.

Step-by-step instructions

Your parents most likely wear sunglasses in the summer. Maybe you have your own, too! You’ll need two pairs of sunglasses that you can put to the test. You also have two small polarizing films in your kit, so you can use them instead of sunglasses if you have to.

Take one pair of sunglasses and look through them. You will notice that the dark lenses make the light significantly dimmer. Now place the other pair of sunglasses in front of the first pair and look through the two pairs. The light should be even dimmer. Slowly rotate one pair of glasses in front of the other and observe how the light passing through the two pairs changes. If you don’t notice any changes, it means your sunglasses have regular nonpolarized lenses; you’ll have to use the polarizing films from the set.

Now, pour some sugar/corn/maple syrup into a transparent glass or beaker. You can also use homemade sugar syrup, which you can prepare in your microwave. Place a source of polarized light, such as a flashlight covered with a polarizing film, under the glass.

Look down at the syrup through another polarizing film. Observe how the liquid changes in appearance as you rotate either or both of the polarizing films. You can also notice some differences depending on how much syrup is in the glass.


Dispose of solid waste together with household garbage.

Scientific description

Our eyes are very sensitive to bright sources of light. Looking directly at bright, glaring light such as the sun or a welding arc can be extremely harmful to your vision. While not quite as intense, bright sunlight on a tropical beach or on a snowy trek high in the mountains still requires eye protection. Sunglasses with polarized lenses block such light efficiently.

Such materials as sticky tape, polyethylene, and plastic are stretched during manufacturing, preferably in one direction. If you take a closer look at their structures, the molecules of these materials are aligned mostly in one direction. Due to this feature, when ambient light passes through them, it is divided into two flows with different polarizations.

But not all materials are like this. Some change the polarization of light differently. We say such materials are optically active. When passing through these materials, light remains polarized inside them, but its direction of polarization gradually changes depending on its color. Syrup, like the one you used in your science project, is one such optically active substance. Read more about this phenomenon here.