Friday, December 13, 2013

Garage Chemistry

A month ago a package arrived at our home from Home Science Tools. The  box had a few warning labels on the side. I sat down and studied the instructions for the various contents. I spent extra time reading the directions for the alcohol burner to avoid any potential disasters. Then I put off actually using these new items because I didn't feel like I was ready to dive into full-blown chemistry. This week we took the plunge.

Go ahead, try to pull those off
Our first goal was to study the difference between a physical change and a chemical change. We combined a mixture of 3 parts sulfur to 5 parts iron filings. When these two items are combined into a mixture, it is easy to separate them into their individual components by passing a magnet over the mixture. Note to self: Next time do not use favorite magnet to do this. (I can't believe I actually have a 'favorite' magnet.)

Next we placed our mixture into a metal lid and placed it over the alcohol
professional lab equipment
burner. The lid got incredibly hot very quickly! Good thing I brought my tongs out from the kitchen, right? The reason we decided to set up our little lab in the garage was to avoid fumes in the house. We could open the big doors and let the air flow through. About the time the mixture started to smoke I said to the boys, "I guess it might have been a good idea to bring the fire extinguisher out here." Maybe next time.

Now things really started getting exciting. EM said, "That stinks!" and promptly ran out of the garage. JT stuck around to see what would happen. A few moments after the flames died down and the newly formed compound started to cool, we removed it from the burner and let it reach a safe temperature. Notice we used a piece of slate under the burner. The directions said to use a non-combustible surface. I looked all around the house for something I could put on the table that I wouldn't mind ruining and found nothing. When we got outside, I saw the pile of slate I have for my garden. Perfect solution.

new compound
Our new compound, iron sulfide, had the magnetic properties of the original iron filings, but could no longer be separated from the sulfur. Even when we crushed up a bit and looked at it under the microscope, we could not see the separate iron particles. It was now one new compound instead of two. Energy was given out when new bonds formed. The flames were a pretty good indication of that.  A perfect example of a chemical change.

Cleaning up was fairly easy. JT wanted to keep the iron sulfide, in case we ever need it, so we put it in a small labeled storage container. The excess alcohol was returned to its original container and the tongs were thoroughly scrubbed.

Overall, the experiment went very well. No one was burned. No one succumbed to toxic fumes. Everyone wore their safety goggles. And we all learned something about chemistry.

I just hope the neighbors don't start wondering what we are doing with a chemistry lab set up in our garage...

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