Here’s a fun science experiment that has a lot of WOW factor! We all know that wood will burn in a fire, but did you know that metals can burn? Well, they can if you get them hot enough! In fact, fireworks are made from burning metals.
In this science experiment, we’re going to make steel wool burn, and as it burns, it will sparkle like little mini fireworks. My oldest son did this experiment in his homeschool co-op chemistry class, and we repeated it at home for the younger kids since it was so awesome to watch. (I was there in his class for the original demonstration – so cool!)
Safety First! Keep in mind that this experiment is not for young kids. Like I said, this was a high school lab. For this experiment, you’ll either want to have an adult performing the whole thing, or teens trying the experiment with plenty of adult supervision. Be sure to wear safety goggles. We’ll discuss this more below, but you’ll want to keep this whole experiment contained in a metal baking dish (we used a disposable one).
What is combustion?
Before starting this really awesome science experiment, you’ll need a little background information.
Whenever something burns, a chemical reaction is taking place. This is called a combustion reaction. In simple terms, combustion occurs when a chemical reacts with oxygen to form one or more products as well as heat and light. We are used to seeing wood react with oxygen to form heat, light, and soot in a camp fire. In this experiment, iron (steel wool) will react with oxygen (from the air) to form iron oxide.
Want to see this science experiment in action? See the video below!
- Disposable baking pan or a metal pie pan
- Steel Wool – make sure it’s a fine grade! We tried this first with coarse steel wool and it did NOT work. I’d recommend getting 00 or 000 gauge steel wool.
- A 9 volt battery
- Safety googles
- Common sense and good judgment 🙂
First, spread out your steel wool fibers a little. You don’t need a lot – you can use less than what is pictured and still create a great fire!
Then simply rub the battery on the steel wool fibers. When the strands of steel wool touch both terminals of the battery, they will complete the circuit and cause electricity to flow. This will heat up the steel wool, which will cause it to react with the oxygen in the air, or in other words, BURN!
The fire will spread quickly throughout the steel wool, creating a cool pattern of sparkly light.
It looks so cool as the flames travel through the strands of steel wool. It really does look like miniature fireworks!
We did this experiment indoors both at Aidan’s chemistry class and at home. It does create a little bit of smoke, but we did not set off our smoke detectors or anything. And we even did the experiment twice! If the smell bothers you, you can certainly do the experiment outside. Do not do this outside on a windy day, however. You won’t want the burning particles to blow.
You won’t need water or anything for putting the fire out, although you can have some water nearby if it makes you feel better. The fuel will be used up quickly and the fire will go out for lack of fuel. (That’s another great science discussion point – all fires need fuel and oxygen in order to burn. Remove one of those, and you’ll have no more fire!)
If you love awesome science experiments, we have more that you’ll want to check out! Learning never needs to be boring.
Try making Hot Ice with baking soda and vinegar. It crystallizes instantly and is hot to the touch!
Build a Soda Bottle Rocket that will fly higher than a two-story house.
Build an Exploding Chain Reaction with craft sticks. This is really fun for a rainy day!
Have fun with science!