Try These Fun Chemistry Demonstrations and Experiments

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10 Fun Chemistry Demonstrations and Experiments

Volcano Experiment
Chemistry experiments go way beyond the basic chemical volcano. Steve Goodwin / Getty Images

These are my top 10 personal favorite chemistry demonstrations, experiments, and activities. This list includes, among other things, easy ways to do color change demonstrations and make colored fire.

Continue reading to get descriptions and instructions for my favorite chemistry projects...

You may also enjoy my list of kid-safe activities

02
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Make Colored Fire - A Personal Favorite Experiment

Colored fire
This rainbow of colored fire was made using common household chemicals to color the flames. © Anne Helmenstine

Colored fire is hands-down my top favorite chemistry project.

Fire is fun. Colored fire is even better. The best part is, the additives I like to use are readily available and safe. They won't, in general, produce a smoke that is any better or worse for you than normal smoke. Depending on what you add, the ashes will have a different elemental composition from a normal wood fire, but if you're burning trash or printed material, you have a similar end result. Colored fire is suitable for a home fire or kid's campfire, plus most chemicals are found around the house (even of non-chemists).

Make Colored Fire

03
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Make the Classic Chemical Volcano

Volcano
The Vesuvius Fire chemical volcano gets its name because it resembles the appearance of the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Italian School / Getty Images

My favorite volcano is the old-school chemistry lab volcano, which is also known as Vesuvius Fire. The mixture glows and gives off sparks as it decomposes, and makes its own cinder cone of green ash. The compounds used in the classic volcano are toxic, so this is a chemistry lab demonstration and not a great choice for the armchair scientist. It's still cool. It involves fire.

Make the Classic Chemical Volcano

Of course, the baking soda volcano is always safe, non-toxic option, too!

04
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It's Easy To Make a Borax Crystal Snowflake

Borax snowflake
Borax crystal snowflakes are safe and easy to grow. © Anne Helmenstine

Growing crystals is a terrific way to examine the structure formed when molecules bond together. The borax snowflake is my favorite crystal project.

This is a crystal-growing project that is safe and easy enough for kids. You can make shapes other than snowflakes, and you can color the crystals. As a side note, if you use these as Christmas decorations and store them, the borax is a natural insecticide and will help keep your long-term storage area pest-free. If they develop a white precipitant, you can lightly rinse them (don't dissolve too much crystal). Did I mention the snowflakes sparkle really nicely?

Make a Borax Crystal Snowflake

05
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Make Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream or Dippin Dots

Dippin dots
Dippin' Dots Ice Cream is made by freezing ice cream into little balls with liquid nitrogen. RadioActive/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

There are lots of fun chemistry ice cream recipes, but the liquid nitrogen versions are my favorite ones.

It's the quick way to make ice cream, plus, if you use your imagination, I'm sure you can come up with lots of other fun activities involving liquid nitrogen. It's easier to get and transport liquid nitrogen than you might think. Try the basic liquid nitrogen ice cream recipe and then show off your skills by making homemade Dippin' Dots ice cream.

06
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Oscillating Clock Color Change Chemical Reactions

Chemical color change
Color change reactions make fantastic chemistry demonstrations. Blend Images - Hill Street Studios/Harmik Nazarian/Getty Images

Of all the chemical reactions, the color change reactions may be the most memorable. The oscillating clock reactions get their name because the colors transition between two or more hues as the conditions change.

There are many color-change chemistry reactions, pretty much using acid-base chemistry. I like the Briggs-Rauscher reactions because the colors oscillate on their own for a long time (clear -> amber -> blue -> repeat). The blue bottle demonstration is similar, and there are other colors you can produce depending on the pH indicator you select.

07
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There's More Than One Way To Make Slime

Slime smile
Sam is making a smiley face with her slime, not eating it. Slime isn't exactly toxic, but it isn't food. © Anne Helmenstine

You don't need to have esoteric chemicals and a lab to have a good time with chemistry. Yes, your average fourth grader can make slime. It's one of the first chemistry projects many kids try. That doesn't mean it's any less fun when you're older.

Recipes for Making Different Types of Slime

08
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Write Secret Messages With Invisible Ink

secret message
Use invisible ink or disappearing ink to write and reveal secret messages. Photodisc / Getty Images

Experiment with invisible ink to see how chemical changes affect the color of materials. Most invisible inks work by subtly damaging paper, revealing the message by making the alterations in the paper apparent. Other versions of the ink appear clear until an indicator chemical is applied, which reacts with the ink to make the message appear.

A variation is to make disappearing ink. The 'ink' is a pH indicator that becomes colorless upon reacting with air. You can make the color reappear by applying a basic solution.

09
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Make Chemical Cold Packs and Hot Packs

Cold hands
Chemical handwarmers use exothermic reactions to keep your hands toasty when it's cold. Jamie Grill Photography / Getty Images

It's fun to mix chemicals together to produce temperature changes. Endothermic reactions are those that absorb energy from their environment, making it colder. Exothermic reactions release heat into the environment, making it hotter.

One of the easiest endothermic reactions you can try is mixing water with potassium chloride, which is used as a salt substitute. A simple exothermic reaction you can try is mixing water with laundry detergent. There are many more examples, some much colder and hotter than these.

10
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Make a Smoke Bomb and Colored Smoke

Homemade smoke bombs
This is why it's great to know chemistry! Wouldn't you love to do this with homemade smoke bombs?. leh Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

 Chemical reactions are the basis for many "magic" tricks, pranks, and fireworks. One of my favorite chemistry projects, which can be used for tricks or celebrations, is making and lighting smoke bombs.

A smoke bomb is a good introduction to pyrotechnics because it does not explode. It doesn't produce a lot of fire. It does give off copious amounts of smoke, so it's best to light your chemical masterpiece outdoors.

11
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Grow a Chemical Garden With Magic Rocks

The "magic" ingredient in Magic Rocks is sodium silicate.
The "magic" ingredient in Magic Rocks is sodium silicate. Todd and Anne Helmenstine

This is the classic chemical garden or crystal garden, though it's more about precipitation than crystallization.Metal salts react with sodium silicate to form fanciful waxy-looking towers.

There are many inexpensive Magic Rocks kits for sale in stores and online, plus you can make Magic Rocks yourself with a few simple chemicals.