Investigate and describe the properties of non-Newtonian fluids and colloids

This activity should take approximately one hour to complete in full. It was initially created for 14–16 year-old learners but can be adapted to suit other age groups. Use the resource in a sequence of timetabled lessons, science clubs or as part of an activity day. 

  • Previews of the Quicksand student workbook, teacher notes, technician notes and PowerPoint slides

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    Get the student workbook, teacher notes and technician notes as MS Word and pdf. Plus, editable MS PowerPoint and pdf slides.

Use the PowerPoint to explain what non-Newtonian fluids and colloids are and provide the link to quicksand.

Learning objectives

  • Follow instructions for making a non-Newtonian fluid.
  • Describe the properties of a non-Newtonian fluid.
  • Apply information about the properties of a non-Newtonian fluid to another context.

Guidance notes

You will need to introduce the meaning of the term colloid using the notes on slide 8. It is sufficient at this level to describe colloids as mixtures in which the solid particles remain suspended throughout the liquid and do not settle to the bottom of the container.

An image of three school children looking in different directions surrounded by aspects of chemistry

This resource was developed as part of the Chemistry for All project. The project was set up to explore and address barriers to participation in UK chemistry undergraduate study through a longitudinal project. Read the findings relevant to teachers, outreach providers, education policymakers and parents in the summary report, or download the full research report.

In this activity, learners make a non-Newtonian fluid, known as ooze, using cornflour and water. Learners explore properties to answer the question: what is the best way to escape from quicksand?

Find the answers to the activity and challenge questions in the teacher notes and slides. 

Health and safety

Read our health and safety guidance and carry out a risk assessment before running any live practical.

The safety equipment suggested is in line with CLEAPSS requirements. For non-hazardous substances, wearing lab coats can help to protect clothes. The safety rules might be different where you live so it is worth checking local and school guidance.

 More resources

  • Develop your learners’ presentation skills by asking them to create posters or presentations on their observations and explanations.
  • Explore the properties of non-Newtonian fluids further using the Custard resource.
  • Extend the multicoloured milk practical to help learners discover more about surface tension and colloids.


The Chemistry for All project found that recognising the value and importance of chemistry, and appreciating how chemistry can lead to interesting and well-paid jobs strongly related to learners’ future aspirations. Discover how chemistry can prepare learners to pursue apprenticeships, university courses and vocational routes, or browse job profiles and try our career options game from A Future in Chemistry.

Link the context of the quicksand resources to careers by watching Robert’s video job profile (also available on slide 4 of the PowerPoint). He is a consumer products technician and studies the behaviour of different materials to develop and improve the properties of products. You can also highlight environmental careers by sharing James’ job profile. He is an environmental chemist and helps to protect the environment by assessing the risks to life from certain chemicals in soil, water and air.

Find more activities like this, plus longer projects suitable for off-timetable days, science lessons or clubs on our Outreach resources hub.