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Magic in Chemistry

Science Exploration class sparks lively interest in science. Last week our students explored a chemical reaction at the lab called “Elephant’s toothpaste”, due to the product’s likeness to an extra-large squeeze of toothpaste.

The reaction is fairly simple. Hydrogen Peroxide (a common disinfectant) is naturally broken down into water and oxygen gas. If the hydrogen peroxide is mixed with dish soap ahead of time, the oxygen gas produced can whip the dish soap into a large amount of foam. However, this reaction on its own is very slow. To get this dramatic effect, we need a catalyst (a chemical or protein which speeds up a reaction).

In this lab, students learned about different catalysts. They used one that is naturally produced in many living things – “Catalase”. Catalase is made in our livers and protects our bodies against peroxides. It’s also produced by activated baking yeast. By mixing a yeast solution into our hydrogen peroxide and soap, we sped up this reaction to an interesting level. It’s always fun to teach a class that yeast is a living thing.

They then watched the effects of using stronger ingredients. Instead of 3% hydrogen peroxide, they used 30%. Instead of yeast, they used a powerful oxidizing agent called potassium permanganate. The result was a column of boiling hot foam that filled the sink. They learned that heat-producing reactions were called “exothermic” – they could definitely use that vocabulary today. Thanks Mr. Buller for sharing with us this fascinating day at the lab.


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