"Storm in a flask" experiment

How to make real lightings using simple chemicals

“Storm in a flask” is a spec­tac­u­lar and in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment, which re­sem­bles a storm from out of a dis­as­ter movie.

Reagents and equip­ment:

  • con­cen­trat­ed sul­fu­ric acid (200 ml);
  • iso­propyl al­co­hol (100 ml );
  • potas­si­um per­man­ganate crys­tals;
  • mea­sur­ing cylin­ders or mea­sur­ing cups;
  • a flat-bot­tomed flask with a vol­ume of 2 l.

Step-by-step in­struc­tions

To con­duct this ex­per­i­ment, pour con­cen­trat­ed sul­fu­ric acid into a flask or cylin­der, then care­ful­ly add iso­propyl al­co­hol, so that the acid and al­co­hol do not mix. Then add potas­si­um per­man­ganate crys­tals. Af­ter a while flash­es will ap­pear on the di­vid­ing line be­tween the al­co­hol and acid.

Pro­cess­es de­scrip­tion

The flash­es ap­pear in the flask be­cause of the in­ter­ac­tion of potas­si­um per­man­ganate with con­cen­trat­ed sul­fu­ric acid in which man­ganese ox­ide (VII) forms, a pow­er­ful ox­i­diz­er, which ox­i­dizes the iso­propyl al­co­hol to an ace­tone. Then the ace­tone is ig­nit­ed by the man­ganese ox­ide (VII), thus cre­at­ing “light­ning” in the flask.

Safe­ty pre­cau­tions

Al­ways wear gloves and safe­ty glass­es when work­ing with con­cen­trat­ed acids. Sub­stances of this ex­per­i­ment are tox­ic and high­ly dan­ger­ous for your health. Do not try this at home. Only un­der pro­fes­sion­al su­per­vi­sion.