Metal contest

Learn which metal is the most active!

1 hour
Experiment's video preview


  • Put on protective gloves and eyewear.
  • Conduct the experiment on the plastic tray.
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.

FAQ and troubleshooting

A tin wire has darkened in the copper sulfate solution. May I call it a reaction?

Yes, the reaction is proceeding, but at a very slow rate: copper precipitate on the tin wire and forms this dark patina.

How to record my results in the table?

For example, look at the line designated for copper sulfate CuSO4. A reaction takes place in two vials: both tin Sn and zinc Zn wires are covered with a layer of another metal. Therefore, we can mark corresponding cells for these reactions with a check (or a plus sign).

However, there is no reaction going in the vial with tin chloride SnCl2 solution and copper Cu wire. Thus, we can mark the corresponding cell with a cross (or a minus sign).

Complete the table following this example.

Which of the observed metals is the most active? Which of them participated in more reactions than the others?

Step-by-step instructions

Step-by-step instructions
  1. Take pieces of metal wire from the bottles: two “Cu” (copper), two “Sn” (tin), and two “Zn” (zinc). Mark the metal pieces with corresponding stickers.
  2. Prepare tin chloride SnCl2 solution: pour out all the 0.5M sodium bisulfate NaHSO4 solution from the bottle into the vial with tin chloride SnCl2 powder (1 g). Securely seal the vial with a cap.
  3. Make sure you prepared everything: for each of three metals – two wires and a corresponding solution. That is, 2 copper Cu wires and copper sulfate CuSO4 solution, 2 tin Sn wires, and tin chloride SnCl2 solution, and 2 zinc Zn wires and zinc sulfate ZnSO4 solution.
  4. First, take 2 cups marked “CuSO4” and fill both of them half full of copper sulfate CuSO4 solution. Place a tin Sn wire in one of them and zinc Zn – in the other.
  5. Then, take 2 cups marked “SnCl2” and fill both of them half full with tin chloride SnCl2 solution. Place a copper Cu wire in one of them and zinc Zn – in the other.
  6. Finally, take 2 cups marked “ZnSO4” and fill both of them half full with zinc sulfate ZnSO4 solution. Place a copper Cu wire in one of them and tin Sn – in the other. Now, wait 15 min.
  7. In the table, mark those combinations of salts and metals where you observed a reaction.

Graphical step-by-step instruction


Dispose of solid waste together with household garbage. Pour solutions down the sink. Wash with an excess of water.

Scientific description

What is a “metal activity” series?

A sports competition is a contest held to determine the strongest athlete or team. The athletes compete with one another to find out who is who. The result is a scoreboard showing the names of the competitors from strongest to weakest The same holds true for the metals. Some metals are more active than the others. Although an athlete may develop his skills and improve his ranking position on the scoreboard, metals have no such an opportunity. For example, zinc will always be more active than copper, never vice versa. This is why chemists have created a league table of metals (equivalent to that of a sports competition scoreboard). It is known as the metal reactivity series. The most active metals are to the left of the table while the least active to the right:

Li → Rb → K → Ba → Sr → Ca → Mg → Al → Mn → Cr → Zn → Fe → Cd → Co → Ni → Sn → Pb → H → Sb → Bi → Cu → Hg → Ag → Pd → Pt → Au

How does the metal reactivity series work?

In our experiment, we put a piece of zinc wire into a solution of copper sulfate and watched how a deposit of metallic copper formed on the piece of zinc, according to the reaction:

Zn + CuSO4 → Cu + ZnSO4

In this case, zinc has literally forced copper out of its salt composition. The same happens in the vial with the zinc wire and the tin chloride solution, where zinc is substituted for tin:

Zn + SnCl2 → Sn + ZnCl2

In the vial with the tin wire in the copper sulfate solution, the reaction proceeds a bit slower, but it still takes place and the tin slowly becomes covered with a thin layer of copper. This reaction slowly pushes the copper out of the copper sulfate solution and onto the tin.

Sn + CuSO4 → Cu + SnSO4

Looking at the metal reactivity series, zinc is more active than both tin and copper, while tin is more active than copper. This is how metal reactivity series works: more active metals push the less active ones from their salts but never vice versa. This is why we did not observe any reactions in the rest of the vials.

Hydrogen is not a metal. Why is it included in the reactivity series?

Hydrogen helps to place the metals in the correct order according to their activity. The metals which are to the right of hydrogen, have a relatively low reactivity. For example, there will be no reaction if any of them is put in an acidic solution.

The metals which are placed in the middle of the reactivity series close to the left of hydrogen, have medium reactivity. These metals react with the acid in an acidic solution which also produces hydrogen as a product. Zinc is an example of such a metal. The following reaction shows how zinc reacts with a sulfuric acid solution:

Zn + H2SO4 → ZnSO4 + H2

Alkali metals and some alkaline earth metals react differently from other metals. When put in an acidic solution, they react with water. Such metals are placed at the very beginning of the reactivity series as they are the most reactive.