Sowing the Seeds of Neuroscience - Chromatography: Observing Complex Combinations of Chemical Compounds

Students learn that plant extracts are mixtures of many chemical compounds and that it is possible to separate these compounds using chromatography. The health benefits of a medicinal plant may be due to one compound or to a combination of chemical compounds working together. In the lab portion, students will do chromatography of a black marker to understand how a single liquid (black ink) is comprised of many different chemicals. They will also do chromatography with plant material to see if multiple components can be separated. This lesson is part of the Sowing the Seeds of Neuroscience Series.


What's in the Lesson Plan:

  • Teacher instruction guide
  • Student handouts
  • Laboratory instructions
  • Extensions and additional resources

Grade Level(s):

6,  7, 

Student Skills Targeted:

  • Understanding that plant extracts are mixtures of many compounds that can be separated using chromatography
  • The plant world is filled with species that contain chemicals with medicinal properties, including neuroactive properties
  • Plant extracts may contain chemicals which can treat neurological and mental illnesses
  • A plant’s health benefits may be due to one chemical or to a combination of chemicals

Time / Duration:

  • 2 class periods, plus additional time for homework


  • Copies of student handouts
  • Spinach, purple cabbage and other vegetables, fruits, flowers or medicinal herbs
  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • Plastic pipettes, filter paper strips, parafilm scissors, water, ethanol, acetone, pencils, penny or other coin, black sharpie flip chart marker, test tubes with solvent, test tube rack, lab tape, timer, mortar and pestle, metric ruler

Alignment with National Standards:

  • Common Core Standards: English Language Arts


  • English

Complete Lesson