Test Tube Thunderstorm Demonstration

Blue chemical test tube icon with a stormy cloud
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You can react chemicals to produce what looks like a thunderstorm in a test tube. This is a spectacular chemistry demonstration that is suitable for chemistry class or lab.

Safety

You must be careful with this demonstration and keep any students away from the setup. It involves corrosive acid, flammable alcohol or acetone, and a slight chance of glassware shattering as a result of the vigorous chemical reaction. The test tube thunderstorm demonstration should only be performed by qualified individuals, wearing full protective gear and using proper safety precautions.

Materials

  • 95% alcohol (any type) or acetone
  • sulfuric acid
  • potassium permanganate
  • glass pipette
  • test tube

Perform the Demonstration

Wear gloves, a face shield, and protective clothing.

  1. Pour some alcohol or acetone into a test tube.
  2. Use a glass pipette to introduce a layer of sulfuric acid below the alcohol or acetone. Avoid any mixing of the two liquids, since the demonstration won't work if too much mixing occurs. Do not handle the test tube beyond this point.
  3. Drop a few crystals of potassium permanganate into the test tube.
  4. Turn out the lights. The sulfuric acid and the permanganate react to form manganese heptoxide, which explodes when it comes into contact with the alcohol or acetone. The reaction looks a bit like a thunderstorm in a test tube.
  5. When the demonstration is concluded, inactivate the reaction by using metal tongs to place the test tube into a large container of water. Be very careful! There is a chance the test tube could shatter.