Holiday Fire – Red

Stay warm during the holidays with a festively-colored fire.

Everyone likes to cuddle up next to a nice warm fire, but we couldn't possibly settle for any normal fire. Why not make a more festive flame? With a bit of chemistry knowledge, you can create a true Holiday Fire that burns red and green. Now that's one way to bring some bright, holiday cheer to the living room!

Experiment Materials

  • 3 grams calcium acetate, monohydrate
  • 75 mL ethyl alcohol
  • 10 grams lithium chloride
  • 10 grams boric acid
  • Safety lighter
  • 100 mL graduated cylinder
  • 250 mL beaker
  • Stirring rod
  • 2 Pyrex evaporating dishes
  • Spatula
  • Safety equipment

Experiment

NOTE: This experiment is intended to be conducted by an adult, or under DIRECT supervision of an adult.

Safety Precautions

Due to the moderately toxic or hazardous nature of some of the materials used in this experiment, please exercise the utmost caution. Always conduct experiments while utilizing proper safety and while wearing proper attire. Chemical splash goggles, chemical resistant gloves, and a chemical resistant apron should be worn at all times.

Experiment

  1. Pour 3 grams of calcium acetate into a 250 mL beaker.
  2. Add 10 mL of distilled water to the beaker containing the calcium acetate. Use a stirring rod to mix the two (not all of the solid will dissolve into the water).
  3. Add 75 mL of ethyl alcohol to the solution in the beaker. A gel will form immediately with the addition of the alcohol. DO NOT STIR THIS MIXTURE!
  4. Use a spatula or similar tool to transfer the gel into two separate Pyrex evaporating dishes.
  5. Sprinkle 10 grams of lithium chloride evenly over the gel in one dish.
  6. Sprinkle 10 grams of boric acid evenly over the gel in the second dish.
  7. Use a safety lighter to carefully light both of the gels. 
  8. The lithium chloride gel will burn with an incredible red flame!
  9. The boric acid gel burns with a vivid green flame!
  10. (Turn off the lights to make the flames even more noticeable.)
  11. Use caution and wait for the dishes to cool before attempting clean up.

How Does It Work?

When you combine a calcium acetate solution with ethyl alcohol, you create a flammable gel commonly referred to as canned heat or Sterno. Lighting the gel heats up the boric acid and lithium chloride. As the two powders are heated, they absorb energy and launch their electrons into an excited state. As the electrons release their energy, they do so in the form of light. The wavelength of light released by the two powders is unique to each, thus the red and green flames.

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