With a few household ingredients and a couple of days, you can make a jelly that flames — although you shouldn't try and eat it. With this fiery jelly from Hell, you can impress your friends and terrify all those who oppose you!
Strap in for the best possible lesson in chemistry — the kind that ends with something on fire. Hopefully not you.
Top image: Charles Haynes/Flickr.
So you want to make jelly that flames. That's understandable. Who doesn't? There's an easy way to make it, using ingredients you already have at home. All you need is vinegar, antacid tablets, and rubbing alcohol. Get the type of antacid tablets that are extremely high in calcium — you want 1000 milligrams of calcium carbonate per tablet. Grind up a few tablets and add about ten milliliters of vinegar. It'll fizz for a while. Stir it up, and then wait until the liquid in it evaporates by half. Add about twice as much rubbing alcohol as slurry, and stir it around. You'll notice it hardens into a semisolid gel that you can pick up.
Pick it up if you want to. They're not my fingers. But remember to put it down on a nonflammable surface in a well-ventilated area, with a fire extinguisher nearby, before you hit it with a lighter. It'll burn merrily away.
Alcohol burns. There's no mystery there. So what's special here is the vehicle that got the alcohol to a semisolid state, while still allowing it to burn. That vehicle is calcium acetate. It's a calcium salt that people causes alcohol to gel, as some people noticed long ago. It's behind a few of those edible burning foods that some chefs make. (This experiment uses rubbing alcohol. It goes without saying that you shouldn't eat it, but if lawyers get involved, I do want it on the record that I said this.) The only problem for the home sterno maker is how to make calcium acetate, and that isn't much of a problem at all. It happens when vinegar hits anything from egg shells to limestone to antacid tablets.
All of the solids mentioned above are made of calcium carbonate. It's made of a calcium atom, a carbon atom, and three oxygen atoms. When the acid in vinegar hits it, it gets ripped apart.
CaCO3 + 2CH3COOH = Ca(CH3COO)2 + H2O + CO2
As you can see, its calcium atom gets taken by the vinegar, turning it into calcium acetate, while the remaining atoms get split between water and carbon dioxide. Add a little alcohol, and light it up. The only problem is, this can be a persnickety recipe. If you don't get the right amount of everything, it'll sputter and the flames will stay low. Try to get 99% alcohol, and experiment with different antacid tablets and different amounts of vinegar. Soon, you'll be able to light up any jell-o mold in town.