10 Cool Chemistry Demonstrations for Educators

Group of children (9-12) watching experiment in school laboratory
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Chemistry demonstrations can capture a student's attention and spark an enduring interest in the science. Chemistry demonstrations are also "stock in trade" for science museum educators and Mad Science-style birthday parties and events. Here's a look at 10 chemistry demonstrations, some of which use safe, non-toxic materials to create impressive effects. Be sure you're ready to explain the science behind each of these demonstrations to students who are ready to try the chemistry for themselves!

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Colored Fire Spray Bottles

chemistry flame

Mix metal salts in alcohol and pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Spritz the liquid onto a flame to change its color. This is a great introduction to the study of emission spectra and flame tests. The colorants are of low toxicity, so this is a safe demonstration.

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Sulfuric Acid and Sugar

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Mixing sulfuric acid with sugar is simple, yet spectacular. The highly exothermic reaction produces a steaming black column that pushes itself up from the beaker. This demonstration can be used to illustrate exothermic, dehydration, and elimination reactions. Sulfuric acid can be dangerous, so be sure to keep a safe difference between your demonstration space and your viewers.

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Sulfur Hexafluoride and Helium

Sulphur hexafluoride
Sulphur hexafluoride gas insulator.

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If you breathe sulfur hexafluoride and talk, your voice will be very low. If you breathe helium and talk, your voice will be high and squeaky. This safe demonstration is easy to perform.

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Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream

Chef makes ice cream from liquid nitrogen.
Chef makes ice cream from liquid nitrogen. Erstudiostok / Getty Images

This simple demonstration can be used to introduce cryogenics and phase changes. The resulting ice cream tastes great, which is a nice bonus since not many things you do in the chemistry lab are edible.

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Oscillating Clock Reaction

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Three colorless solutions are mixed together. The color of the mixture oscillates between clear, amber, and deep blue. After about three to five minutes, the liquid stays a blue-black color.

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Barking Dog Demonstration

Barking Dog Chemistry Demonstration
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The Barking Dog chemistry demonstration is based on the reaction between nitrous oxide or nitrogen monoxide and carbon disulfide. Igniting the mixture in a long tube produces a bright blue flash, accompanied by a characteristic barking or woofing sound. The reaction can be used to demonstrate chemiluminescence, combustion, and exothermic reactions. This reaction does involve the potential for injury, so be sure to keep a distance between viewers and demonstration space.

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Water Into Wine or Blood

Use chemistry to turn a liquid into 'wine' or 'blood' and back to water again.
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This color change demonstration is used to introduce pH indicators and acid-base reactions. Phenolphthalein is added to water, which is poured into a second glass containing a base. If the pH of the resulting solution is right, you can make the liquid switch between red and clear indefinitely.

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Blue Bottle Demonstration

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The red-clear color change of the water into wine or blood demo is classic, but you can use pH indicators to produce other color changes. The blue bottle demonstration alternates between blue and clear. These instructions also include information on performing a red-green demonstration.

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White Smoke Demonstration

Teacher showing scientific experiment to students
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This is a nice phase change demonstration. React a jar of liquid and an apparently empty jar to make smoke (you're actually mixing hydrochloric acid with ammonia). The white smoke chemistry demonstration is easy to perform and visually appealing, but because the materials can be toxic it's important to keep viewers at a safe distance.

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Nitrogen Triiodide Demonstration

Iodine crystals readily change to the gas phase.
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Iodine crystals are reacted with concentrated ammonia to precipitate nitrogen triiodide. The nitrogen triiodide is so unstable that the slightest contact causes it to decompose into nitrogen and iodine gas, producing a very loud snap and a cloud of purple iodine vapor.

Safety Considerations

These chemistry demonstrations are intended for use by trained educators, not unsupervised children or even adults without proper safety gear and experience. Demonstrations involving fire, in particular, always carry some degree of risk. Be sure to wear proper safety gear (safety goggles, gloves, closed-toe shoes, etc.) and use appropriate precautions. For fire demonstrations, be sure to have a working fire extinguisher handy. Maintain a safe distance between demonstrations and the class/audience.