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ERIC Number: EJ1154137
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017-Sep
Pages: 8
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0021-9584
Misconceptions in the Exploding Flask Demonstration Resolved through Students' Critical Thinking
Spierenburg, Rick; Jacobse, Leon; de Bruin, Iris; van den Bos, Daan J.; Vis, Dominique M.; Juurlink, Ludo B. F.
Journal of Chemical Education, v94 n4 p1209-1216 Sep 2017
As it connects to a large set of important fundamental ideas in chemistry and analytical techniques discussed in high school chemistry curricula, we review the exploding flask demonstration. In this demonstration, methanol vapor is catalytically oxidized by a Pt wire catalyst in an open container. The exothermicity of reactions occurring at the catalytic surface heats the metal to the extent that it glows. When restricting reactant and product gas flow, conditions may favor repetitive occurrence of a small explosion. We show how mass spectrometry and infrared spectroscopy allow for unravelling the chemical background of this demonstration and discuss various ideas on how to use it in a classroom setting to engage students' critical thinking about chemical research. Along the way, we show that two commonly published ideas about the chemical background of this demonstration are incorrect, and we suggest simple tests that may be performed in a high school setting either as an addition to the demonstration or as a student research project.
Division of Chemical Education, Inc and ACS Publications Division of the American Chemical Society. 1155 Sixteenth Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 800-227-5558; Tel: 202-872-4600; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: High Schools
Audience: Teachers
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A