October At-Home STEAM Activity: Glow Stick Science Experiment

This October, let’s conduct a science experiment using glow sticks! 

Playing with glow sticks is a fun, hands-on way for your young scientist to see how energy can be transformed from stored chemical energy to light energy. By simply submerging the glowing sticks in water your child can observe how brightness produced by the chemical reaction changes, depending on the temperature. 


  • 3 or more glow sticks that are the same color and size
  • At least 2 Styrofoam cups 
  • A thermometer (optional)
  • Ice 
  • Kitchen tongs
  • Permanent marker 


  1. Give your child a glow stick to observe. Ask what they see when they look closely. Tell them that the bubbles contain chemicals.
  2. Fill one cup with hot water.
  3. Add ice to the second cup and fill it with cold water.
  4. Use the permanent marker to label one glow stick hot and one glow stick cold.
  5. Let your little scientist bend the glow sticks and snap them until they crack (to activate). Shake the stick to mix up the chemicals inside to initiate the chemical reaction. 
  6. Use the tongs to place one glow stick in the hot water and one in the ice water. Leave the third glow stick on the table. Make your predictions about which one will glow brightest. 
  7. Help your child set a timer for three minutes and ask them to observe the glow sticks to see what is happening.
  8. After three minutes, remove the glow sticks from the water and place them side-by-side on the table with the room temperature glow stick. Ask your child if they can see a difference between the glow sticks.
  9. Have your child put the glow sticks in order from brightest to dimmest. Was their guess correct?
  10. Optional: Let them test the same experiment using different colored glow sticks to see whether some colors glow brighter than others. 

Additional Exploration:

Crack two glow sticks to activate them. Place one in the freezer overnight. Leave the other at room temperature. Compare the glow sticks the next morning.

The Science Behind the Fun:

Stored energy is called potential energy. Glow sticks contain potential energy in the form of chemicals: fluorescent dyes and a chemical called hydrogen peroxide. No light can be released until the chemicals are mixed together. When you mix the chemicals together by cracking the glow stick, they react to make new chemicals and release excess energy in the form of light, transforming chemical energy into light energy. How brightly the sticks glow depends on the temperature of their environment. 

Adding heat to a chemical reaction makes it happen faster, so adding heat to a glow stick makes it produce more light energy for a short period of time. However, a colder glow stick will glow longer since it’s reacting and releasing light energy more slowly. 

Glow Stick STEAM Experiment