Fire and Flames Chemistry Demonstrations

Exciting Chem Demos Involving Fire and Flame

Fire chemistry demonstration
Hand-held fireballs are one fire chemistry demonstration you can try.

Dina Belenko Photography / Getty Images

 

Are you looking for an exciting chemistry demonstration? How about one that involves fire, flames and sparks? Here is a collection of simple demonstrations that produce spectacular fiery results.

Ice on Fire Chemistry Demonstration

Set ice on fire for a spectacular exothermic chemistry demonstration.
Set ice on fire for a spectacular exothermic chemistry demonstration. Anne Helmenstine

Light a match to a bowl of ice and watch it burn. Really, the ice melts into water, which reacts with calcium carbide to produce acetylene gas. When a flame is applied to the ice, the acetylene catches fire, making the ice appear to burn. While it takes a lot of energy to actually make water ice burn, ice made from other chemicals is flammable under ordinary conditions. If you have access to dry ice or liquid nitrogen, you can freeze alcohol or a mixture containing alcohol and water. The alcohol ice appears clear, just like water ice, but can be ignited with a match.

Self-Carving Exploding Pumpkin

Igniting acetylene gas produced by a chemical reaction blows the face out of a pumpkin.
Igniting acetylene gas produced by a chemical reaction blows the face out of a pumpkin. It's like the pumpkin carves itself!. Allen Wallace, Getty Images

React calcium carbide and water inside a Halloween jack-o'-lantern to produce flammable acetylene gas. Ignite the gas and make the pumpkin carve itself. While the demonstration using calcium carbide is amazing, you can also use a simple reaction between baking soda and vinegar to produce carbon dioxide gas. This self-carving pumpkin doesn't produce any flames, which may be less exciting, but is safe for younger experimenters.

Burning Money Demonstration

In the burning money demonstration, paper currency is on fire yet is not consumed by the flames.
In the burning money demonstration, paper currency is on fire yet is not consumed by the flames. ICHIRO, Getty Images

Set real paper currency on fire and watch it burst into flame, yet remain undamaged. This exciting demonstration illustrates that fuels have an ignition point and that it is possible to control the temperature of a flame. The demonstration only works with real bills (not paper ones), because they are actually made of fabric and not paper, so they having a higher ignition point.

Color Fire Vortex Demo

It's easy to make your own fire tornado or fire whirl.
It's easy to make your own fire tornado or fire whirl. Add a bit of boric acid, borax or copper sulfate to turn the flames vivid green. Anne Helmenstine

Demonstrate how tornadoes, whirlpools, dust devils and fire whirls are made... using fire! Illustrate the forces that form a vortex and show how a vortex can be dispelled. You can color the flames to add interest to this demonstration. This colored fire vortex produces green flames.

Thermite Reaction Chemistry Demonstration

Thermite reaction between aluminum and ferric oxide.
Thermite reaction between aluminum and ferric oxide. CaesiumFluoride, Wikipedia Commons

The thermite reaction is a practical chemical reaction, plus it produces a spectacular flame. Basically, this is a chemical reaction that makes a metal burn. A familiar example of metal oxidation is rusting of iron, but in the thermite reaction, the process proceeds much more quickly. It is an excellent demonstration to show that oxidation of metals is a form of combustion. If you are seeking a more advanced fire demo, don't miss this one.

Instant Chemical Fire

Flames in a test tube
Some chemicals react and produce enough energy to produce flames.

 Dina Belenko Photography / Getty Images

There are several ways to produce fire without using a match or other source of flame. Chemical fire is a fascinating demonstration that is also educational, since it gets people thinking about how combustion works.

Hydrogen Balloon Explosion

Use a long torch or candle attached to a meter stick to detonate a hydrogen balloon!
Use a long torch or candle attached to a meter stick to detonate a hydrogen balloon! This is one of the most dramatic chemistry fire demonstrations. Anne Helmenstine

Fill a balloon with hydrogen gas and use a flame to make it explode. This demonstration is spectacular on its own, or you can compare the effect of lighting a flame to hydrogen balloons, oxygen balloons, and balloons filled with a mixture of the gases. The demonstration also illustrated the combustion reaction. Hydrogen on its own doesn't actually burn. It needs an oxidizer (oxygen) for combustion to occur.

Fireballs in Your Hand

One secret of success is to hold the fireball in the palm of your hands.
One secret of success is to hold the fireball in the palm of your hands, moving it from one hand to another to keep from getting burned. The flame of the fireball is much hotter than its base. Henrik Sorensen, Getty Images

Use a fuel with a relatively low ignition point to make a fireball you can (briefly) hold in your hand. In addition to using the right fuel, it's important to form the ball out of a material that will burn and not melt! Ideally, the ball should be formed of cotton, linen, or wool. If it is soaked in water before being dipped in the fuel, it will be cooler because of the high heat capacity of water. A fuel mix of alcohol and water also achieves this goal, plus the presence of water makes it easier to put out the fireball when you drop it.

Safety Considerations

This chemistry demonstrations are intended to educate and should only be performed by qualified, responsible professionals. Projects involving fire should not be attempted by children or anyone incapable of following the safety protocols. Fire is naturally hot and able to spread. Fire projects should be performed on fireproof surfaces, away from fuel and flammable materials. Demonstrators should tie back long hair and have a fire extinguisher ready. Students should not be encouraged to try experiments performed in a lab at home.