Chemical serpents

You will need:
- baking powder (NaHCO3)
- icing sugar
- sand
- methylated spirits
- heat mat
- matches

Mix one teaspoon of baking powder with 3 teaspoons of icing sugar.
Shape the sand into a pile as shown on the right. You may wish to put the sand in a beaker.

Pour methylated spirits onto the pile.

Place a small sample of the baking powder/icing sugar mixture on top of the pile of sand and light the methylated spirits.

The end result is very spectacular.

Click to see the reaction.

Click to see a 1 Mb video

Safety notes

Once the fire is going do not add any more methylated spirits.

As the icing sugar burns it melts. Before it solidifies it traps air bubbles producing a column of carbon which is pushed upwards by the bubbles of gas trapped in the base of the column. Carbon dioxide is the gas produced when NaHCO3 is heated. The methylated spirits provides the heat source to burn the sugar and decompose the baking powder to produce carbon dioxide according to the equation below.

2NaHCO3(s) => Na2CO3(s) + CO2(g) + H2O(g)
Why is baking powder used in cooking?
Apart from carbon dioxide what other gas is trapped in the column of carbon?
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