any good ideas for thermochemistry experiments? (read: boom!)

A group of students, including me, do extracurricular stuff with one of the chemsitry teachers at school. mostly making explosions and fun stuff. So far we have made NI3 and nitrocellulose, and are in the process of making thermite. We are safe, wear protection, have the teacher’s help, etc. so it’s not like we are doing this illegally. The principal has even whitnessed some of these, so it’s all good.

We have a nicely stocked chem storeroom with magnesium powder and ribbon, iron, KMnO4(heh heh heh), HNO3, KNO3, etc. As you can see, we have plenty of goods, and it’ll be easy to get ahold of most compounds and elements.

Now for the question. We are running out of things to make that go boom. Can anyone point me to a site where I can see some experiments or reactions that can be done in a high school chem lab? We want to do thermochemistry. Thanks from all the ‘mad bombers’!

Shake your teacher’s hand for me. I don’t have any cool ideas for you to try, but I admire a teacher who a) is willing to spend extra time with his students because they want to learn, and b) trusts you guys to learn stuff like that instead of assuming you’re animals who will go blow up the post office.

I wish I had had more teachers like that when I was in school.

Though I believe the book is no longer in print, I was lucky enought to purchase Loompanics “Uncle Fester’s Home Workshop Explosives” which details the production of Nitroglycerine, Nitromannitol, PETN and Cyclodine. They could all be very easily manufactured in a chem lab under good supervision.

As I do not have access to such a lab I never tried them myself, though I would love to hear about the results from someone who does have access to such equipment.

Because of the danger involved in the production of the first two (and the large strength of the last two) I would never consider posting directions (besides, they are about ten pages or more a piece). If you would like I would be happy to email them to you, however.

Materials required would be a decent vaccuum distillation kit, fuming sulfuric acid, fuming nitric (though it could be less than fuming, but why settle for less?) and pleny of ways to keep a reaction at or below a certain temperature. (the rest of the stuff needed is pretty common)

Since you’ve already made NI3 you have all you need to make some incredibly devious booby traps, as a decent NI3 crystal can set off nitro in place of the harder-to-find blasting caps.

As a final caveat, AFAIK ditributing this information with foreknowledge of its intent to use is illegal, as well as making the stuff. IANAL tho. Be careful, whatever path you choose.

I don’t know about nitro, he is kinda skeptical about letting us do a lot of this stuf indoors. Buuuut, we could possibly make it. When we made NI3, it got all over the floor, and walking in the back of the room was fun when your shoes set it off.

Anything we can do with phosphorous? I remember something about making I think it was red P, and it spontaneously combusts in a loud screaming sound. We have a book with a chapter on thermochem, but we are running out of really cool experiments. Any more ideas?

BTW, joe_cool, he is an awesome teacher. I come into his room during study halls and mess around. I am cleaning the entire lab tomorrow, and on monday hopefully we will do some more cool stuff. And he is a great chem teacher also.


Red Phosphorous is a controlled substance, whose threshhold I don’t remember, due to its use in methamphetamine manufacture. But hell, you can get that off matchbook lighting strips.

Stick with the thermite. :slight_smile: You might want to try scraping up something ele, whose name I can’t remember, but is used as a stage in making nitroglycerine and is itself explosive. More later tonight when I can look at my books :wink:

I’m sure nitro isn’t the most evil thing you could make, and being somewhat (hopefully!) knowledgeable you can find a safe threshhold–quantity-wise–to avoid accidents being dangerous. Myself I don’t know, and have never had the inclination to try (yet) but I am always eager for what I would feel are accurate testimonials.

If you’ve done NI3 you may want to try forming some big-ass NI3 crystals instead of the presumably smaller ones you have made. Master that and you can master anything.

Myself, for kicks, I always just ground up model rocket engines. But, I’ve never had access to good euqipment, either.

Got a litle U[sub]234[/sub]? A little Heavy Water?
If so, I’ve got a project for you!!! :wink:

For some cheap and easy thrills, repeat a lab I recently did in Pre-IB Chem I. It’s a hydrogen-collection lab. We ignited the H[sub]2[/sub] afterwards and got the cool whistles and pops that should result.

I’m pretty sure the (balanced) reaction was:

2HCl + Zn —> ZnCl[sub]2[/sub] + H[sub]2[/sub]

The reaction is strong at the very start and slows down. It’s exothermic so you’ll need a treated test tube. Filling a balloon with the hyrdrogen is a blast, but a lot of Zn and HCl is needed.

Note: Don’t take anything I’ve just said for fact. I have a shaky memory and am a sophomore in high school.

have you guys tried making all the different colors of fireworks? I have no idea how it’s done, but I know it’s chemical, and could be fun…


I found magnesium powder today:) Iron filings are used to make the sparkle in sparklers. I might make fuses also. I have thought about making fireworks. I need the formula for the stars though. We have all of the compounds needed for colors, incl. Ba, Sr, Cu, Fe, K, Ca. Many! I just need to convince my teacher to let us do them…

I have a couple ideas, based on my experience at a small, startup rocket engine manufacturer a few years ago. Every engineer there was a total pyro. If you weren’t, you were immediately converted into one. It was scary.

[li] Liquid oxygen (LOX). Since it can be easily measured, you can have the students calculate how much would be required to completely combust a certain amount of fuel, as George Gobel did. And I can attest to the beauty of a tank full of LOX (it looks like liquid sky) although I’m not so crazy as to get that close to so much of it![/li]
Hybrid rocket engines. Take a 12" x 0.375 id plexiglass tube, run oxidizer through it, and light the end. Voila - instant hybrid rocket engine. Use it to teach basic rocketry - reaction mass, delta vee, etc… If you want to get more elaborate, put a metal nozzle on the end, and make an ignitor near the oxidizer feed end of the tube. Since lexan tubes aren’t easy to find, you can just get a solid cylinder and drill a 3/8" hole in it. The easiest ignitor is a wad of steel wool inserted between two electrical contacts that you have run thru two small, stoppered holes drilled near the oxidizer feed end. A lantern battery may supply enough current to make the steel wool red hot, but we used a 12V motorcycle battery. For an oxidizer, O2 works, but needs a regulator; Nitrous Oxide is almost perfect since it’s self pressurizing. (But don’t leave the students unsupervized around it, or they’ll certainly start huffing it!) If you use a small Nitrous tank, and an offboard ignition battery, you can make this system small enough to mount on an RC model vehicle!

For a steel-wool igniter, you don’t need anything more than a 9-volt battery. It’s an old Boy Scout trick. Meanwhile,

[Moderator watch ON]

I don’t mind people suggesting experiments, but please don’t go into any detail as to how they’re done: We really don’t want that kind of information on this site. It’s another matter if red_dragon’s chem teacher wants to teach his students this stuff, because he’s (presumably) well-trained in all the necessary safety procedures, and is present at the experiments to keep things under control.


Thanks Chronos, I had thought this thread had a high risk of being closed. thanks for modding!

I put some KNO3 in a flame, and it just melted like wax does. Nothing spectacular for a powerful oxidizer. Think I need to add sugar or carbon to make it go?

We may be making nitroglycirine next…