Acid switch

Turn luminescence on and off at will!

Difficulty:
Danger:
Duration:
10 minutes

Safety

  • Do not aim UV light at eyes or face.
  • Put on protective gloves and eyewear.
  • Conduct the experiment on the safety underlay.
General safety rules
  • Do not allow chemicals to come into contact with the eyes or mouth.
  • Keep young children, animals and those not wearing eye protection away from the experimental area.
  • Store this experimental set out of reach of children under 12 years of age.
  • Clean all equipment after use.
  • Make sure that all containers are fully closed and properly stored after use.
  • Ensure that all empty containers are disposed of properly.
  • Do not use any equipment which has not been supplied with the set or recommended in the instructions for use.
  • Do not replace foodstuffs in original container. Dispose of immediately.
General first aid information
  • In case of eye contact: Wash out eye with plenty of water, holding eye open if necessary. Seek immediate medical advice.
  • If swallowed: Wash out mouth with water, drink some fresh water. Do not induce vomiting. Seek immediate medical advice.
  • In case of inhalation: Remove person to fresh air.
  • In case of skin contact and burns: Wash affected area with plenty of water for at least 10 minutes.
  • In case of doubt, seek medical advice without delay. Take the chemical and its container with you.
  • In case of injury always seek medical advice.
Advice for supervising adults
  • The incorrect use of chemicals can cause injury and damage to health. Only carry out those experiments which are listed in the instructions.
  • This experimental set is for use only by children over 12 years.
  • Because children’s abilities vary so much, even within age groups, supervising adults should exercise discretion as to which experiments are suitable and safe for them. The instructions should enable supervisors to assess any experiment to establish its suitability for a particular child.
  • The supervising adult should discuss the warnings and safety information with the child or children before commencing the experiments. Particular attention should be paid to the safe handling of acids, alkalis and flammable liquids.
  • The area surrounding the experiment should be kept clear of any obstructions and away from the storage of food. It should be well lit and ventilated and close to a water supply. A solid table with a heat resistant top should be provided
  • Substances in non-reclosable packaging should be used up (completely) during the course of one experiment, i.e. after opening the package.

Step-by-step instructions

Eosin is a~dye with an intense color. Even a few drops can turn a~considerable quantity of water red.

chemistry-luminescence_eosin_en_iks-s-01

However, if you shine a UV light on it, it starts glowing yellow-green!

chemistry-luminescence_eosin_en_iks-s-02

When you add NaHSO4 to your eosin solution, nothing seems to change: it's the same orange-red liquid. However, watch what happens if you shine the UV light on it now. The yellow-green glow has disappeared! That's because the H+ from NaHSO4 binds with eosin, making it lose the ability to glow like this.

chemistry-luminescence_eosin_en_iks-s-03

If you think you've ruined your cute glow-in-the-dark flask, no worries! Just add Na2CO3 and watch the glow return. That's because CO32- from Na2CO3 rips H+ from eosin, restoring its ability to glow under UV light.

chemistry-luminescence_eosin_en_iks-s-04

Disposal

Please refer to local regulations when disposing of chemicals. Dispose of other solid waste with household garbage. Pour leftover solutions down the sink. Wash with an excess of water.

Scientific description

In this experiment, NaHSO4 acts as an acid, because it yields H+ ions in water. Na2CO3, on the other hand, acts as a base, because it can catch stray H+ ions and even react with water H2O to yield OH- ions. As you've seen, when there's a lot of H+ ions out there, eosin loses its ability to glow under UV light. In other words, eosin doesn't glow in an acidic environment, but glows in a neutral or basic environment. In fact, you can "turn" the glow "on" and "off" using NaHSO4 and Na2CO3 quite a few times. This technically makes eosin a pH indicator!

Curiously, eosin enjoys its greatest prominence in the field of biology. Eosin is good not only at being red and glowing under UV light, but also at binding to proteins. This combination of properties makes it perfect for staining some biological samples. You see, biological samples are rarely easy to distinguish under a microscope. More often than not, it's nearly impossible to discern what is where—everything is more or less the same color. But allowing red eosin to bind to protein-rich microscopic structures makes them clearly visible.

That’s interesting!