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Chemistry Class Takes Study Of Chemical Reactions Outdoors

HL Chemistry students studied replacement reactions, and the cold temperature was kept at bay by the large flames from the chemical reactions.

Students studied how lithium, sodium and potassium metals reacted with water, then took the class outside. Upper School IB Chemistry and IB Physics Teacher Robert Shaner quizzed the students on what they had learned in class while he set up two experiments. 

The first mimicked a grease fire. After melting candle wax using a torch, Mr. Shaner set the wax on fire and then proceeded to try and extinguish it using water. The result was a five to six-foot flame. 

"Of all the demonstrations I do in front of students, the grease fire is one of the most exciting and educational demos I could do," Shaner said.

The class then discussed why that happened and what alternate steps could be taken to extinguish the fire. 

"Most students have heard that they should not add water to a grease fire but have no real understood of why. Students are surprised to observe a wall of flames rising three to four feet above burning wax in a tin can when only a tiny stream of water hits the burning it. Seeing the ball of flames rising in the air helps them better understand the potential hazard when water is added to a grease fire," Shaner said. 

Following that, potassium chlorate in a test tube was melted to a molten state. Mr. Shaner then took out a bag of Cheetos (the flaming hot variety for comedic purposes) and dropped it into the test tube. A three to four-foot flame shot out of the test tube. Again, the class discussed the reactions and why each occurred. 

"The educational point to this demo is to show that oxidizing agents can be dangerous if placed near combustible materials," Shaner said. 

The third and final demonstration called “Dragon’s breath” illustrated what happens when a dry organic dust such as grain dust, dry flour dust, coal dust or (in this case) a dry pollen dust called lycopodium powder is sprayed in front of a flame. The material instantly caught fire and students saw a stream of flames shooting from the squirt bottle. The demo revealed the dangers associated with dry organic dust near a flammable source.

Click here to see the full collection of photos from the day in our Facebook album.