Lab 5: Chemistry Unleashed

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We’ve learned the terms, and now it’s time to explore dry ice, a plasma ball, and a few other cool chemistry devices and substances.

Lab Safety:

Even though we won’t have a formal lab write up this week, we will need to take laboratory safety very seriously.

For the dry ice:

  • Always use padded gloves (not the thin chemical kind) and tongs when moving dry ice. Never touch it with your bare skin. At -109° F, it can give you a severe burn.
  • Always use eye protection with dry ice.
  • You know not to eat or drink in lab, but particularly do not eat or drink anything with dry ice in it.
  • We will need to keep the dry ice outside the room so it doesn’t build up too much carbon dioxide gas in an enclosed space.

For the plasma ball and fluorescent light bulb:

  • Both these items are made out of glass. Please treat them gently and absolutely no horseplay!
  • We will be using eye protection.
  • The plasma ball can give you a burn to your fingertip if you place a metal item on it and then hold your finger over it.
  • Keep the plasma ball away from water and make sure your hands are dry.

For the acetone and Styrofoam:

  • Acetone is flammable. Keep it away from the plasma ball or any source of flame or sparks. Cell phones are potential sources of sparks.
  • We will also be using the acetone outside to reduce the chance of breathing fumes.
  • Please wear your eye protection.

For nitinol wire, be careful of the hot water and also keep your face away from the wire when you add it to the hot water. It can move violently and rapidly.

Part 1. Exploring solid carbon dioxide or dry ice.


  • Dry ice from the grocery store
  • Cooler (don’t close lid tightly)
  • Oven mitts and or heavy gloves
  • Metal tongs
  • Optional: metal knife or spoon
  • Quarter

Here are some suggestions for dry ice experiments (direct link):

If that isn’t enough, you can also make dry ice sing by placing a metal spoon on it (direct link).

Since you already have the dry ice, might as well try the next activity, too.

Part 2. Creating a dry ice and acetone cooling bath (-108° F).


  • Glass beaker
  • Dry ice
  • Acetone
  • Tongs
  • Heavy gloves

Put about 50 mL of acetone in a beaker and then slowly add golf ball or smaller-sized pieces of dry ice using gloves and/or tongs.

This “cool” Flickr video shows you the preparation and use of an acetone cooling bath.

Also, add Styrofoam to acetone.

Part 3. Experiments with a plasma ball.


  • Plasma ball
  • Extension cord
  • Fluorescent tube
  • Diffraction grating

Here are some good plasma ball demos (direct link):

Part 4. Nitonol Wire

  • Nitinol wire sample
  • 2 glass beakers (if have microwave)
  • Saucepan  to heat water (if have stove)
  • Ice
  • Water

This video might give you some ideas (direct link):

How about making a Nitinol Wire Inchworm (direct link)?

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