Exploding Pumpkins

Television viewers in Denver woke up to the sounds of exploding pumpkins. It was actually a new version of my self-carving pumpkin trick for Halloween.

Editor’s Note: This experiment was presented in this forum for educational purposes only.  We DO NOT recommend trying this experiment in the classroom unless you have had proper training to do so.  Please note that Steve Spangler Science takes no responsibility for comments posted on this site.

On a personal note, I know that Steve practiced this experiment at least 20-30 times with trained professionals, in a controlled environment, before presenting the experiment on the air.  Even for television, the experiment was performed with safety personnel and fire officials on-site.  This is not a do-it-yourself activity.

Please have a safe and happy Halloween – the Editor

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Comments (34)

  • Kristina Reply

    I am attending school as an education student, training to become an elementary teacher. One of our science assignments is to generate an expereiment that would get kids asking questions. My partner and I chose Halloween to present. I found your website and seen this experiment, and it got my interest going. However, I cannot find instructions on how to perform the experiment, what happens, and why it happens. Is there a place that I could find this information, as I would love to present to my fellow classmates this exciting experiment on Halloween. Thanks

    September 16, 2005 at 2:07 pm
  • Steve Reply

    Yes, this is a great demo… but for television! The explosion inside the pumpkin comes from the iginition of acetylene gas. I first learned of the demo from a Flinn chemistry workshop at a National Science Teachers Association convention. You might find a write-up at http://www.flinnsci.com

    September 16, 2005 at 3:32 pm
  • EZ Reply

    I read your response to Kristina regarding the directions for duplicating “exploding pumpkins”.
    I tried Flinn, to no avail. I would like to do this as a demonstration in our hands-on Science museum, DiscoveryWorks. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

    September 25, 2005 at 11:11 am
  • Carter Reply

    Here’s how I do it with my high school chemistry students: I put about 3 grams of calcium carbide in a metal can and the can goes down into the carved out pumpkin. The carvings (the face or whatever) is carefully put back into the front of the pumpkin. Water is added to can and the mixture allowed to react – the gas being produced is acytelene. There’s a hole in the back of the pumpkin big enough for an ‘aim and flame’ striker (one of those lighters). Put the lid on the carved out pumpkin and squeeze the striker – boom! Everyone wears safety glasses, of course.

    September 25, 2005 at 10:39 pm
  • Angela Reply

    I plan to try this demo in my Chemistry class. I’m a first year teacher and was wondering where do you do your demo?

    October 25, 2005 at 7:28 pm
  • Steve Reply

    If you’re a first year chemistry teacher, I would highly recommend that you contact the great people at Flinn Scientific – http://www.flinnsci.com – before doing it. They might even sell a kit with all of the necessary safety precautions. My version of the demo was done in a television studio with many safety precautions in place. Contact Flinn! (800) 452-1261

    October 26, 2005 at 9:23 am
  • Jonathan Schmadeke Reply

    Pumpkins float (in water) because they have a density less than 1.0 g/ml!

    November 1, 2005 at 8:29 pm
  • shaquan Reply

    thanks for telling me Jonathan

    November 2, 2005 at 1:05 pm
  • Kim Kauzlarich (Flinn Scientific) Reply

    Hello science enthusiasts!
    I just wanted to mention that the Flinn has received several phone calls regarding this activity due to the reference on this forum. This demonstration was in fact presented by a teacher at the NSTA Morning of Chemistry, however, we do not have a ChemFax! written up for this demonstration. The amounts of calcium carbide vary depending on the size of the pumpkin used, and there is also an obvious safety issue. It really takes some perfecting to achieve a “perfect exploding pumpkin”.
    Thank you for your comments Steve – keep up the great service you provide science teachers!

    October 3, 2006 at 12:05 pm
  • ashley Reply

    we did the exploding pumpkin in school during science. it scared the living day ligvhts out of me. it was loud. my scienc teacher did it with the other classes and it was done outside but we could her it from inside.it was asowem.

    November 13, 2006 at 4:03 pm
  • Laurie-Ann Reply

    Is there another chemical i can use? i haven’t got any calcium carbide but would love to do this activity with my chemistry class.

    October 15, 2007 at 2:17 pm
  • Jeremy Reply

    I am an AP Chemistry student who helped perform this experiment for my high school’s Safe Trick or Treat Night and we used an ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL mixture with PHENOLPHTHALEIN. It is highly more flammable, but the results are just as spectacular! Good Luck!

    October 30, 2007 at 11:43 am
  • Rashmi Reply

    I am a chemistry teacher and I want to do this experiment with ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL mixture and PHENOPHTHALEIN.Can You please guide me how much quantity of each is required?

    November 7, 2007 at 9:16 am
  • Ian Reply

    Hi I am in the 8th grade and thinking about doing this experiment I was looking at the video pretty sure i have everything but it said your supposed to cut a whole in the back and thats where you light it but wouldn’t that just #1 burn you if you were lighting it from behind? #2 wouldn’t the explosive energy just go out the back? Thank you.

    October 7, 2008 at 4:47 pm
  • Steve Spangler Reply

    Hi Ian,

    It’s great to see an 8th grader with so much science ambition! However, this experiment is not one that I would recommend to anyone other than trained professionals. Ask your chemistry teacher if he/she could perform this experiment for Halloween… it’s a great reaction, but much safer when performed by an adult who is trained to work with these dangerous chemicals.

    Steve

    October 8, 2008 at 8:45 am
  • Leah Rackley Reply

    I would like to do an experiment like this for my children’s church class, but I do not have access to chemicals. Is there a way to perform this experiment with everyday supplies.

    October 16, 2008 at 1:53 pm
  • Bruce Reply

    Leah,

    One reference above mentioned rubbing alcohol. 91% from your favorite wal store should do the trick. I have used it with great success in potato cannons, so it should do this just fine. Put it in a small spray bottle that gives a good mist so it mixes well with the air. Always try it yourself before the demo and make sure you are not alone. Fire can be a dangerous thing. I singed my bangs and eye lashes burning black widows with this set up.

    October 25, 2008 at 3:17 am
  • Steve Spangler Reply

    Just a quick reminder that this is not a “do it at home” kind of activity. You should be a science teacher who has been trained in how to do it before you try it out. You can find out information that I posted on the Exploding Pumpkins experiment.

    Steve

    October 27, 2008 at 1:39 pm
  • Cari Reply

    I am a chemistry teacher with access to all materials, but wasn’t sure if I would have to go out and buy multiple pumpkins to get the job done + I wanted to practice on Thursday to get the technique and amounts correct before demonstrating for my students. Can the same pumpkin be used multiple times or must a new one be used each time?

    October 28, 2008 at 3:53 pm
  • rose Reply

    Cari,
    I’ve got the supplies but haven’t tried it yet myself. I have looked up other people’s experiments on youtube. Some of the people playing with this stuff are working on Darwin Awards. When I do this, I will start small. I don’t want to completely blow up my pumkin on the first try but I would expect to need to have back up pumpkins… since I don’t know what I’m doing… that’s why it’s called research. Please be careful.

    October 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm
  • Cari Reply

    I am being careful and I’m working with another chemistry teacher who is more experienced but regardless, I bought three pumpkins. I’m trying it today without any kids around to test with the amounts because I’m going for the eyes, nose and mouth pop-out and not pumpkin exploding guts everywhere…

    October 30, 2008 at 5:31 am
  • Susan Reply

    Let’s all take Steve’s advise and leave this experiment to teachers and professionals who have the proper ingredients and environments to perform this.

    October 30, 2008 at 6:01 am
  • Barbara Reply

    Cari, please let me know how yours turns out. I have all the calcium carbide and the pumpkin carved, just feeling a little anxious about doing this in front of students and want to practice. Also, not sure if I will need another pumpkin or not.

    October 30, 2008 at 8:04 am
  • britny Reply

    hi i am a 12th grade student currently taking chemitry, and i am doing this experiment for a grade 9 science class. this is how i am doing, and so far the reactions ive gotten it pretty good, and how my group is doing it it’s pretty safe.. 1st we carved the pumpkin to what we wanted, put the pieces back in, carvd a hole in the back. then we measure 2grams of calcium carbide (our pumpkin was medium sized) and 20ml of water, which then the water reactes with the carbide and makes a huge loud bang. we attached a buring splint (popsicle stick) to a meter stick and then lite the pumpkin that way to prevent any injuris, also we used plastercine to cover the hole we carved in the back to stop the gas forming to seep out the hole… the 1st time we did this without the plastercine and the meter stick with the splint and my friends hand got a tad burned. so we found this way to be very very useful and it prevents alot of injuries if done properly and handles with care.

    October 30, 2008 at 3:11 pm
  • Cari Reply

    I tried it this morning, ended up starting with a smaller amount of calcium carbide but ended up needing between 2-2.5g. I placed the calcium carbide in a little cup I made out of aluminum foil, added just enough water to cover the calcium carbide (it fizzes at that point as the gas immediately begins to form, put the lid back on the pumpkin, blocked the hole in the back of the pumpkin with my hand, had a pre-lit candle attached to a meter stick in a safe place so that the candle was not in danger of causing a fire, counted to 10 brought the tip of the candle to the hole (me at opposite end of the meter stick), and boom, it worked perfectly. The pumpkin is on fire so to speak for a few seconds but it rapidly went out. The pieces of the pumpkin were perfectly fine afterwards so one pumpkin should work but I’m gutting out two more tonight just to have them. If anything, they become room decorations. I’m very excited to do it tomorrow. My kids will be across the room for that just in case factor but the pieces basically went out two feet from the pumpkin so I’m not too worried…. better to be safe than sorry though. Have fun… Happy Halloween!

    October 30, 2008 at 5:09 pm
  • Kathy M Reply

    Thanks so much Cari!!!
    I have 6 carved pumpkins ready to go for 5 classes. Your description seems to be the best and it makes me feel a bit more relaxed about this demo. The kids oughta love it!! I can’t wait for 1st period!!
    More tomorrow after all my classes……… cross your fingers!
    8th Grade Science Rules!!!
    Happy Halloween to all!!!

    October 30, 2008 at 10:19 pm
  • Paul Reply

    After you perform the experiment, how do you dispose of the waste?

    August 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm
  • Ariana Reply

    I am an 8th grade science teacher and would LOVE to do this experiment around Halloween for the students. I have 7 sections and was wondering if you can “reuse” the pumpkins or if you need a new one for each explosion.

    Also, can this be done in the classroom or will we need to go outside to do it? I don’t want to set off any fire-alarms (that doesn’t look too good for a first year teacher).

    October 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm
  • Julie Gintzler Reply

    Ariana – If you search for “exploding pumpkins” on our website, you’ll find a page that explains the reaction (in very general terms). As you know, we don’t put specific quantities on the website because we don’t want people to get hurt. I have to tell you that this is EXTREMELY dangerous. You should be wearing a full face shield, coat, safety gloves and safety glasses. I would strongly recommend that you do this for the first dozen practice pumpkins you blow up until you really get the hang of it. It is not our intent to be evasive, rather to protect the safety of those who use our site and are not trained in the usage of chemicals. The experiment starts with the carving of a Jack-O’Lantern and the build up of acetylene gas which is ignited. The truth is that there really is no exact recipe since each pumpkin is different and there’s always the chance that too much acetylene gas built up in the pumpkin will make the whole thing will explode! There is a set of chemical reference books called “Shakhasairi Chemical Demonstrations” series. This chemical text series is designed as a high level chemical demonstration text. You will find the full experiment details in these books. Oh… and the pumpkin can be re-uesd as long as you haven’t blown him up.

    October 18, 2010 at 9:29 am
    • David Pribyl Reply

      I have the Shakashiri series, but can’t find that reference.
      which volume? Which page / article?

      October 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm
  • Cari Reply

    I reuse the same pumpkin for all of my classes.

    October 29, 2010 at 6:34 am
  • conner roberts Reply

    I think your experiments are awesome. what would be best without mager explosions

    October 31, 2011 at 1:38 pm
  • Danica Reply

    Please respond to this! I’ve been trying to research the best way to dispose of the calcium carbide in the pumpkin after the explosion and can’t find anything useful!

    September 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm
    • Susan Wells Reply

      Hi Danica – I apologize, but disposal of chemicals is not our domain. We encourage our fans to leave the hazardous stuff to the experts, like chemistry teachers. My advice is to either check with your favorite chem teacher or local and state regulations.

      October 7, 2013 at 10:32 am

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