Oxygen Experiment: Age 12 and Up
When Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist and scientist, split the uranium atom, it marked the beginning of the Atomic Age and creation of the atomic
bomb. Fermi built the world's first nuclear reactor and produced "neptunium", an element not existing in nature. He received the Nobel Prize in physics for the year 1938.
How do great scientists make new discoveries and advances in science? They devote themselves to an area of their particular interest, and they carry out exhaustive research and experiments until
they find the right answer. Some scientists may never find what they are looking for, but they never give up.
The scientific name for combustion (burning) is oxidation. When substances are burned in air, the resulting products are called oxides. When iron goes through oxidation, the result
is iron oxide (rust). You observe the effects of oxidation when watching a piece of paper or a piece of wood burn. This process produces heat and light called combustion or rapid
oxidation. Substances can be oxidized slowly without forming light. This experiment will show that slow or rapid oxidation produces heat.
A parent or teacher is required for helping with this experiment. You will need to purchase some of the products needed in this experiment from a reputable science dealer.
Materials needed: *steel wool, 2 glasses, cold water, 2 test tubes and a photography compound called carbona, or another detergent which will remove oil. *Steel wool is mainly iron and will need
to be washed in carbona or any other detergent to remove oil and prevent rusting.
1. Wash 2 steel wool pads with the carbona. Allow the pads to dry and then place each pad in a separate glass. Add 2 centimeters of water to the steel pad in the first glass before allowing both
glasses to stand for several hours.
Did rusting occur in one glass or both glasses? Was heat produced during this experiment? Your experiment should show that moisture will quicken the rusting process.
2. This experiment will allow you to determine what part of the air is oxygen in the slow oxidation of iron. Again, wash 2 pads of the steel wool. Once dried, place each into a separate test
tube. Put some water, about an inch to an inch and a half, inside each glass. Take one test tube, invert (turn it upside down) and place it in one glass. Take the second test tube and slightly
moisten the steel wool pad before inverting (turning it upside down) and placing it in the second test tube. Allow both test tubes to stand for several hours.
What do you see? What happened with the steel wool pads? Your experiment should show the moisten steel wool pad has rusted and that it caused the water in the test tube to rise. Did yours? To
measure the height of the water, measure the distance from the tube's mouth to the water level's top. Does the water only rise in that tube? What is the amount of oxygen in the air? Why did you
need to include the test tube with the piece of dry steel wool pad?
The steel wool that was moistened rusted as long as the test tube had oxygen in it. When the oxygen was slowly removed from the air, a partial vacuum formed causing the water to rise. The water
in the dry test tube did not rise because the rust formation removed the oxygen from the air. You called the test tube with the dry steel wool pad a control. This control was needed to
show that water will only rise when rusting has occurred. If you had not used the control, you may have thought that the rising of the water had been caused by another factor.
To estimate the amount of oxygen: measure the height to which the water had risen. Usually, about 21% of the air is oxygen, so the water should have risen to about one-fifth (1/5) of the way up
the test tube. Remember, too, that the steel wool occupies part of the tube, which left less room for air.
There are many exciting experiments that you and your parents and friends can carry out at home. Will you be the next great scientist?
1. Editors. The World Book Encyclopedia. World Book-Childcraft International, Inc: Chicago. 1990
2. Rosenfeld, Sam. Science Experiments with Air. Harvey House, Inc.: NY. 1969
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