Top 5 Christmas chemical experiments
Using chemistry to create the Christmas spirit!
Christmas is just around the corner! Once you’ve chosen the perfect gifts for your friends and family, it’s time to think about fun Christmas activities. With just a little effort, these 5 festive experiments will help you decorate the house and fill it with the Christmas spirit in no time!
Want to spice up your Christmas decorations with some artificial snow? Here’s how to make your own in just 5 minutes!
- Diapers (they contain sodium polyacrylate, a chemical compound that effectively absorbs liquid – and that’s exactly what you’ll need for this experiment);
- A glass of water;
- An empty glass or container.
- Cut open some diapers and pour the contents (sodium polyacrylate granules) into a clean glass.
- Pour some water into another clean glass (approximately 100 mL of water per 2–3 grams of granules).
- Add the water to the sodium polyacrylate granules.
- Watch the substance absorb water and swell, significantly increasing in size and forming “snowflakes”!
The absorbing substance in diapers is sodium polyacrylate in granule form. It can absorb tremendous amounts of liquid — hundreds of times its own mass! Water penetrates into the polyacrylate granules, and occupies so much space inside these granules that they have to swell to accommodate it, turning into “snow.” Precisely what you need for your Christmas decorations! But beware, if you add too much water, it will turn into a jellylike mass instead of “snow.” Just a note: with time, this “snow” may start losing shape as the water gradually evaporates. You can, however, restore its shape – just add a bit more water! Store this artificial snow in an airtight container.
This snow isn’t edible! Make sure to wash your hands after playing with it.
Snowfall in a bottle
Think you can only enjoy watching snow fall outside? Create your own mini-snowstorm in an ordinary plastic bottle!
For this experiment, you'll need:
- Ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) – 70 g;
- Water (H2O);
- An empty plastic bottle;
- A glass or another empty container;
- A pot of hot water (a heated bath).
- Pour 70 g of ammonium chloride into a glass;
- Fill the glass with water up to the 500 mL mark and stir the contents (the salt won’t dissolve completely);
- Place the glass in the pot of hot water (chemists would refer to this as a heated bath) and water until the salt dissolves completely;
- Quickly pour the hot solution into a bottle and cap it. Once the solution starts to cool down, you’ll see a beautiful snowfall — salt crystals will precipitate out and fall down in the bottle, just like little snowflakes.
How does this snowfall in a bottle work?
How much of a substance can dissolve in a glass of water? It really depends on the properties of the substance and the temperature of the water. Here, we want to dissolve more ammonium chloride than is possible at room temperature; therefore, we have to heat the solution. And the solute dissolves completely in a matter of minutes! But as soon as the solution starts to cool, all the excess ammonium chloride has to precipitate out — and it falls to the bottom in the form of delicate crystals. It looks like a real snowstorm!
Chemistry can help you work magic! For instance, you can make sparkling Christmas ornaments that will look just as good as what you can buy in a store!
- Silver nitrate (AgNO3) – 0.5 g AgNO3 in 100 mL of water;
- Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) – 0.5 g NaOH in 100 mL of water;
- Ammonia solution (3%) (NH3*H2O) – 5 mL;
- Glucose (C6H12O6) – 0.15 g of glucose in 30 mL of water;
- A glass flask or bottle;
- Optional: a ribbon and a short fir tree branch;
- A pipette.
- Take a glass flask — it will serve as a base for your Christmas decoration;
- Pour a solution of silver nitrate into the flask. Drop by drop, add a solution of sodium hydroxide — it will form a brown precipitate;
- Drop by drop, add ammonia to the flask — it should dissolve the precipitate;
- At once, pour out all a glucose solution into the flask. Shake the flask vigorously for 3–5 minutes. You should see a shiny silvery film forming on the walls of the flask;
- Pour the solution out of the flask. Rinse the flask with water several times;
- Add a ribbon and a fir tree branch to the flask to finish the decoration. Done and done!
Where does the silvery film in the flask come from?
First, you synthesize silver(I) oxide (the brown precipitate) and then dissolve it in ammonia. It yields the target substance – silver diamine hydroxide [Ag(NH₃)₂]OH – needed to create a mirror-like film. Further, you add glucose to reduce the silver, which precipitates out and forms a beautiful shiny coating.
Make sure to wear protective gloves when conducting this experiment.
In order to make a silver tree, you’ll need:
- A copper tree (copper plates folded into a Christmas tree);
- A solution of silver nitrate AgNO3 (0.5 g of AgNO3 in 100 mL of water);
- A beaker.
How to make a silver Christmas tree:
- Set the copper tree in the beaker;
- Pour the solution of silver nitrate into the beaker, completely immersing the tree;
- Wait for several minutes — you’ll see silver crystals appear on the copper tree, and the solution will gradually turn light-blue.
How does silver coat the copper tree?
Once copper is added to the solution of silver nitrate, it causes a substitution reaction. The reaction proceeds as follows: 2AgNO₃ + Cu = Cu(NO₃)₂ + 2Ag. Silver and copper swap places: copper enters the solution, and silver precipitates out in the form of metal. The solution turns light-blue due to the formation of copper(II) nitrate – the copper ions tint the solution blue.
Make sure to wear protective gloves when conducting this experiment.
You’ve likely seen an abundance of Christmas tree ornaments decorated with frost-like patterns. You, too, can easily draw your own icy patterns on any piece of glass!
- Carbamide, or urea ((NH2)2CO) – 300 g;
- Water (H2O) – 50 mL;
- A glass;
- A small piece of glass;
- A paintbrush.
How to create patterns on a glass using carbamide?
- Pour 300 g of carbamide into a glass. Add 50 mL of hot water and mix thoroughly. The carbamide will start dissolving in the water, but won’t dissolve completely because there is too much of it);
- Dip a paintbrush into the solution:
- Take a piece of glass and make several strokes with the paintbrush to apply the solution to the glass;
- Wait for several minutes — soon you’ll see frostwork patterns appearing on the glass!
Where do these “frostwork” patterns come from?
Carbamide readily dissolves in cold water, and does so even better in hot water. If you deposit a small quantity of hot carbamide solution on a piece of glass, it will form whimsical crystals. Once the solution starts to cool down on the glass, carbamide has no choice but to crystallize as the water cools too much for all the carbamide to stay dissolved. Needle-like crystals grow on the wet glass surface, creating fascinating, unique patterns. They look like real frostwork!
Make sure to wear protective gloves when conducting this experiment. The frostwork pattern you create is easy to remove from the glass – simply rinse it with water.