Aluminium Foil and NaOH

aluminum foil and sodium hydroxide produce hydrogen gas

This demo simulates what happens when Drano is poured down a clogged drain; the hydrogen gas produced forces gunk out of the drain. Also, this demonstration is a good safety example of why bases need to be handled carefully – they can be corrosive, especially to metals. If the hydrogen gas is collected and ignited, this demo shows the safety hazards that evolved gases can have.
2Al + 2NaOH + 6H2O → 2NaAl(OH)4 + 3H2

Ammonium Nitrate in Water

ammonium nitrate ions in solution

When ammonium nitrate is dissolved in water it feels cold, which indicates an endothermic reaction.
NH4NO3 (s) → NH4+ (aq) + NO3- (aq)

Balloon Kabobs

balloon with a skewer through it

In this demo, a skewer is pierced through a balloon without popping it. The balloon is made from a rubber polymer. The polymer is made of many long, elastic, overlapping chains, very similar to spaghetti. When a skewer pierces the balloon, these chains are stretched and pushed open to make a hole for the skewer and the balloon does not pop. It is important to pierce the balloon near the bottom & top, where the rubber has the least amount of stress. The polymer is more able to stretch and rearrange, allowing the skewer to pass through.

Bending Water

bending water with a balloon, charging by induction

When the balloon is rubbed on a pair of jeans, electrons are wiped from the jeans to the balloon, causing a net negative charge on the balloon. The charged balloon is held near a thin stream of water. Charges in the water rearrange so that the positive charges in the water become attracted to the negatively charged balloon, and the stream of water bends. The rearranging of charges is pronounced because water is a polar molecule.

Black Foam

When sugar is reacted with concentrated sulfuric acid it creates a black foam made of elemental carbon. The water that is produced in the reaction is gaseous and causes the foam to rise.
H2SO4 + C12H22O11 → 12C + 11H2O + a mixture of acid and water

Blue Bottle Demo

methylene blue equilibrium under basic conditions

Under basic conditions glucose is oxidized while methylene blue is reduced, changing from blue to colorless. The reduction reaction can be reversed by shaking the flask which forces oxygen into solution, which oxidizes the methylene blue, thus turning it back to blue. If the flask is let sit, the oxygen will come out of solution making the solution colorless and ready to shake again.

Bubbling Magnesium

When magnesium ribbon is placed in hydrochloric acid, hydrogen gas is produced causing the mixture to bubble.
Mg (s) + 2HCl (aq) → MgCl2 (aq) + H2 (g)

If they hydrogen gas is collected, it can be ignited to demonstrate the potential safety concerns of an evolved gas.
H2 (g) + O2 (g) → H2O (g)

Camphor Particles

camphor sublimation

In this demo, camphor particles are placed in water. They sublime at room temperature which is why camphor’s odor permeates the room so quickly. The gas that forms around the particles propels the particles in random directions. Earwax contains a large percentage of long chain fatty acids which form a monolayer in water, thus ceasing the motion of the camphor particles.

Chemistry Pop Guns

This demo harnesses the reaction of baking soda and vinegar to blow a cork off a test tube.
NaHCO3 (s) + CH3COOH (aq) →CO2 (g) + H2O (l) + CH3COONa (aq)

CO2 Bubbles

dry ice soap bubbles

CO2 gas from subliming dry ice gets caught in a soapy solution creating a column of bubbles. When the bubbles are popped, the “fog” that we see is condensed water vapor, not carbon dioxide gas.

Collapse a Soda Can

When a small amount of water is heated inside the can, steam is produced, filling the can. When the can is inverted into cold water, all of the steam condenses quickly causing the can to implode.

Color Tornado

food coloring tornado in water on a hot plate

In this demo, food coloring is added to a stirring beaker of water to create a tornado of color. This could be used as an example of a physical change, or to demonstrate the importance of properly mixing solutions.

Colored Flames

manganese strontium sodium copper potassium salts burning in ethanol

When different ionic compounds are heated, electrons around the metal atom become excited and jump energy levels. When the electrons fall back to ground state they release light and heat energy. The amount of energy released determined the wavelength and color of the light released, resulting in different colored flames.

Colored Flowers

flowers colored with food coloring

As water evaporates off the surface of flower petals, capillary action in the stems pulls water up to the leaves and petals. If the water is colored, that also colors the petals.

Colorful Oxidation States

This demo has a solution in a flask that changes color from pink to blue to green to yellow to orange as the solution is stirred. The different colors are due to the different oxidation states of Mn.

Colorless to White

silver nitrate with potassium chloride

This demonstration makes a white precipitate by mixing equal amounts of silver nitrate and potassium chloride.
AgNO3 (aq) + KCl (aq) → KNO3 (aq) + AgCl (s)

Decomposition of Ammonium Dichromate

ammonium dichromate on fire, decomposition

This demo decomposes ammonium dichromate using a fuse soaked in ethanol. The reaction is a violent one, that resembles a volcano. Ammonium dichromate is an orange solid, while chromium (III) oxide is a dark green solid.
(NH4)2Cr2O7(s) → Cr2O3(s) + N2(g) + 4H2O(g)

Diet and Regular Soda

diet soda floats regular soda sinks coke

Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners while regular soda has sugar in it. Artificial sweeteners are so sweet so only a small amount is needed, where as much more sugar is needed to achieve the same sweetness. Because regular soda has more mass in the same size can, it is more dense than the diet soda.

Disappearing Ink

This demo uses acid base chemistry and an indicator to make an ink that will appear or disappear depending on the solution added to it. Phenolphthalein, which is clear, reacts with a base, and then turns pink.

Dry Ice in Universal Indicator

dry ice universal indicator acid base reaction

Universal indicator goes from red (pH 4) to violet (pH10) as the pH of a substance changes. Adding NaOH to water starts the solution off at pH 8-9 (blue). When dry ice is added to water it forms carbonic acid, and lowers the pH, which is the reason for the color changes. The “fog” that we see is condensed water vapor though, not carbon dioxide gas.

Electrocute a Pickle

pickle electrocution

When electricity is passed through a pickle, it is conducted through Na+ and the Cl- ions that are present in the pickle. The electricity excites the electrons to a higher energy state, and when the fall back to ground state they emit a yellow/orange light.


Electrodes made from pencil lead are attached to a 9V battery to electrolyze various solutions. Oxidation occurs and the anode and reduction occurs at the cathode. When a solution of tin (II) chloride is electrolyzed tin metal and chlorine gas are produced:
SnCl2 (aq) → Sn (s) + Cl2 (g)
When a solution of copper (II) chloride is electrolyzed copper metal and chlorine gas are produced:
CuCl2 aq) → Cu (s) + Cl2 (g)

Elephant’s Toothpaste

decomposition of hydrogen peroxide elephant's toothpaste old foamy

Hydrogen peroxide is decomposed quickly in liquid soap with the help of a catalyst to create a large volume of foam that grows out of a graduated cylinder. The soap bubbles contain oxygen.
2H2O2 → 2H2O + O2, KI is a catalyst

Fake Blood

This demonstration makes iron (III) thiocyanate complexes that are deep red in color, resembling fake blood.

Genie in a Bottle

decomposition of hydrogen peroxide

This demo makes use of the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to produce a column of steam out of a flask, that looks like a genie coming out of a bottle.
2H2O2 → 2H2O + O2, KI is a catalyst

Gold and Silver Pennies

plating pennies with zinc silver pennies gold pennies

This demo uses sodium hydroxide to plate Zn on the surface of a copper penny, making it appear silver in color. Zinc is oxidized in sodium hydroxide. The remaining electroplating process is not fully understood. The silvery penny can be heated to melt the zinc and copper together, creating a gold colored alloy.

Gummy Bear Sacrifice

gummy bear in potassium perchlorate

Potassium chlorate is such a strong oxidizer that when a gummy bear, which is mostly sugar, is placed into it, the sugar is oxidized violently producing noise and a flame. This demo can be used to discuss strong oxidizers as well as how much energy is in sugar.

Hot – Cold Water

hot water rises cold water sinks

Hot water expands so it is less dense than room temperature water. Cold water contracts so it is more dense than room temperature water. The red hot water rises and the blue cold water sinks.

Hydrogen Balloons

hydrogen balloon explosion

This demo shows the explosiveness of hydrogen, by igniting a balloon filled with hydrogen.
2H2 (g) + O2 → 2H2O (g)

Igniting Magnesium

burning magnesium

When magnesium is ignited, it is readily oxidized by oxygen in the air producing an incredibly bright light and intense heat.
2Mg (s) + O2 (g) → 2MgO (s)

Jumping Flame

This demo uses a stove made out of aluminum cans that can be lit using knowledge of vapor pressure. When the acetone surrounding the stove is lit, the acetone in the stove boils, releasing vapors that are then lit on fire.
CH3OCH3 + 3O2 → 2CO2 + 3H2O

Lemon Fizz

lemon reaction with baking soda

When basic baking soda (NaHCO3) is combined with acidic lemon juice (mainly citric acid, H3C6H5O7) an acid base reaction occurs. The reaction releases CO2 which can be captured using dish soap to form bubbles.
H3C6H5O7 (aq) + 3 NaHCO3 (s) → 3 CO2 (g) + 3 H2O (l) + Na3C6H5O7 (aq)

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

Liquid nitrogen is -196˚C and quickly freezes the ingredients into ice cream. The nitrogen boils out leaving deliciously creamy ice cream. The “fog” that we see is condensed water vapor though, not nitrogen gas.

M&M Color Wheel

M&Ms in water, candy coating dissolving

When M&M’s are placed in water, the outer shell, which is made of sugar, dissolves. The sugar moves from a place of high concentration (the M&M) to a place of low concentration (the water away from the M&M). When the sugar shell dissolves and moves outward, it takes the layer of food dye with it. When more than one M&M is placed into a petri dish the colors do not mix because the concentration of sugar at the interface is approximately the same. Also, around the bottom of the M&M water appears cloudy because the sugar that is dissolved is more dense than the water, so it sinks.

Make Water A Gel

sodium polyacrylate forms a gel with water

This demo uses sodium polyacrylate, a super absorbing polymer found in diapers, to turn water into a gel. The sodium polyacrylate has carboxylate anion portions and sodium cation portions. Water is attracted to the sodium ions, thus it enters the polymer through osmosis and the polymer swells and the sodium carboxylate is ionized. The anionic carboxylates on the polymer repel each other, causing the polymer to swell, trap the water, and form a gel. When NaCl is added the increase of electrolytes (ions) in the water shield the repulsion of the carboxylates, thus contracting the polymer and expelling the liquid water.

Making Chalk

This demo shows how a precipitation reaction works. The precipitate formed is a common ingredient in chalk.
CaCl2 (aq) + Na2CO3 (aq) → NaCl (aq) + CaCO3 (s)

Marshmallow Magic

When a marshmallow is placed in a large capped syringe and the plunger is pushed in, the air in the marshmallow contracts from the pressure. Conversely, if the plunger is pulled back, the pressure decreases causing the air in the marshmallow to expand.

Mass the Gas

In this demo, baking soda and vinegar are mixed in a plastic storage bag. The reaction container is massed before and after the reaction for students to see the Law of Conservation of Mass in action.
NaHCO3 (s) + CH3COOH (aq) →CO2 (g) + H2O (l) + CH3COONa (aq)

Metamorphic Magic Plastic

In this “trash-to-treasure” activity, polystyrene clamshell containers (#6 plastic) are used to make hard plastic art pieces. When polystyrene clamshell containers are produced, the material is heated and stretched into a mold, thus locking the material in an extended state. When this material is heated again, it returns to its unstretched size and shape. This property can be utilized to create a range of crafts, including buttons, key chains, luggage tags and jewelry. If students mass their plastic before and after, this could also be tied to the Law of Conservation of Mass.

Mushroom Cloud

dry ice mushroom cloud bubble

When dry ice is placed in warm water it sublimes very quickly forming a large amount of carbon dioxide gas. When a bubble is placed over this the bubble grows from the pressure.

Non-Burning Dollar Bill

non burning dollar bill ethanol and water

When the bill is dipped in the water/alcohol mixture then lit on fire, the water protects the bill from burning. A large amount of the alcohol is vaporized from the heat causing a large flame around the bill.
C2H5OH + 3O2 → 2CO2 + 3H2O

Non-Popping Balloon

When water is placed in a balloon, the balloon can be placed over a flame without popping. Water absorbs the heat from the flame, so the rubber of the balloon does not become weak and break like it does with the dry balloon.

Pepper in Water

Water has a very high surface tension because of the strong hydrogen bonding between water molecules, which allows the pepper to float on top of the water. When a small amount of soap is added it forms a monolayer on the surface. The monolayer spreads away from the point of contact causing the pepper to move to the edges of the dish.

Pick Up An Ice Cube

This demo picks up an ice cube without lifting it. The salt changes the melting point of the ice cube which “freezes” it to the string, allowing the demonstrator to pick the ice cube up.

Pressure Cooker

boiling water in a low pressure syringe

In this demonstration, warm water is placed in a plastic syringe, the syringe is sealed, and the plunger is pulled back causing the water to boil. The water boils because the action of pulling back the plunger increases the volume, thus decreasing the pressure. The boiling point of a liquid is dependent on the pressure of the system, so a decrease in pressure leads to a decrease in boiling point.

Rainbow in a Beaker

densities of sugar solutions layering liquids

Sugar solutions that have different concentrations have different densities; the more sugar in a solution the more dense it is. Therefore less dense solutions can be layered on top of denser ones.

Rates of Yellow

A reaction between two white solids occurs when lead nitrate and potassium iodide are shaken forcefully producing a mixture of yellow and white solid products. The reaction occurs almost instantaneously when aqueous solutions of these compounds are mixed, precipitating yellow lead iodide.

Pb(NO3)2 + 2KI → PbI2 + 2KNO3

Red Cabbage Indicator

red cabbage indicator in common household solutions

Anthocyanin, which is found in red cabbage, is a natural indicator that can be easily extracted.

Red Sunset

The reaction of sodium thiosulfate and hydrochloric acid produces colloidal sulfur which clouds the solution. As the sulfur concentration increases, shorter wavelengths are scattered and longer ones pass through, this causes an increase of reddish color to appear on the overhead.
Na2S2O3 + HCl → 2NaCl + SO2 + S + H2O

Relight A Candle

Candle wax is flammable as a vapor, so a candle can be relit by igniting the smoke trail of a recently blown out candle, which contains wax vapor. This can be used to demonstrate how caution needs to be taken with flammable vapors.

Shatter a Flower

When a flower is dipped in liquid nitrogen (-196°C) it is instantly frozen. Liquid nitrogen boils at room temperature. The “fog” that we see is condensed water vapor though, not nitrogen gas.

Shrink A Balloon

shrink a balloon liquid nitrogen

When a balloon is placed in liquid nitrogen the air inside it is condensed from the cold (-196°C), causing the balloon to shrink. Once the balloon is removed it will regain its size as the air heats up. Liquid nitrogen boils at room temperature. The “fog” that we see is condensed water vapor though, not nitrogen gas.

Silly Putty

polyvinylacatate, silly putty polymer

This is a hands on activity that demonstrates how chemical reactions change the properties of a substance. In this case, borax (sodium borate) changes the sticky properties of Elmer’s glue, to make a fun to play with putty. Elmer’s glue is polyvinyl acetate, and when sodium borate is added to it, a cross-linked polymer is created giving the glue very different properties that make for a fun activity for students!

Sodium Hydroxide in Water

sodium hydroxide ions in solution

When sodium hydroxide is dissolved in water it feels warm, which indicates an exothermic reaction.
NaOH (s) → Na+ (aq) + OH- (aq)

Spinning Jet Stream

In this demo a ping pong ball with a hole along the seam is submerged in liquid nitrogen (-196⁰C) to fill it. When removed, the nitrogen in the ball boils and is forced out of the hole in a stream. The stream, which comes out at an angle, causes the ball to spin away from the stream. The “stream” that we see is condensed water vapor, not nitrogen gas.

Strawberry DNA Extraction

strawberry DNA extraction

This simple activity can make DNA a real and visual thing for students.

Super Saturated Sodium Acetate

A super saturated sodium acetate solution is poured onto a sodium acetate seed crystal. The seed crystal provides a crystalline structure template for the sodium acetate ions to form on. This is an exothermic process.

The Disappearing Cup

acetone dissolves Styrofoam

Acetone dissolves a Styrofoam cup because of the principle like dissolves like.


thermite, cannon balls

As two rusty cannon balls (one covered in aluminum foil) are smashed together, sparks and a cracking sound are produced.
Fe2O3 (s) + 2Al (s) → Al2O3 (s) + 2Fe (s)

Vanishing Volume

When 50mL of water are added to 50mL of ethanol in a 100mL graduated cylinder, there are only ~97mL of liquid. Ethanol and water molecules are attracted to each other through hydrogen bonding. The two molecules pack closer together with each other than they do with just themselves.

VSDB Camp – Year 2

Wednesday June 26th – Thursday June 27th, 2013: As part of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry’s outreach efforts through the REU Program, Casey and 5 JMU professors helped run a science camp at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB). The …

Water Flowing Uphill

A candle is placed in a crystallizing dish containing water and lit. A beaker is placed upside-down over the candle. The candle will eventually go out and the water level in the beaker will rise.
CxHy­ (wax) + (x +y/4)O2 (g) → x CO2 (g) + (y/2)H2O (l)

Zinc + Ammonium Nitrate

This is a very exciting exothermic reaction that produces a flame and a lot of smoke.
Zn + NH4NO3 → N2 + ZnO + 2 H2O, NaCl is a catalyst