See a lightning storm in a test tube

Illustration for article titled See a lightning storm in a test tube

One exceptionally dangerous experiment is nicknamed "a lightning storm in a test tube." Although it does look like lightning, it's actually more like a bunch of booze-soaked explosions. Either way, it's cool to watch.

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Ah, what could be more fun that mixing acid, alcohol, and potassium permanganate? What's that you say? Shards of glass to the eye? Well, you're in luck. This experiment gives you a chance at both. If you want to miss out on the last, you should probably just watch the video of it.

The setup is pretty simple. Just get a layer of sulfuric acid with a layer of alcohol on top of it. Next drop in the potassium permanganate. The potassium permanganate will trail down through the alcohol until it hits the acid. Once it's there, the acid will rip off its potassium atom, but gift it with a trio of oxygen atoms. Briefly. The newly-made molecule, manganese heptoxide, can't hold on to its seven oxygen atoms for long, and starts losing them two at a time. Oxygen bubbles up, and a lot of heat is released. When you have oxygen, heat, and alcohol, you'll soon get a lot of little explosions under the ethanol.

Sometimes, however, you'll get one big flash as the "thunderstorm" becomes more of a test-tube shattering explosion. This is why, in general, only people with a lot of experience in chemistry and a lot of protective eye wear do this experiment.

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Image: Ian Boggs

Via Nurd Rage, BU, Bentley Brett

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DISCUSSION

Man_on_the_Ag_Mtn
Man_on_the_Ag_Mtn

An exceptionally dangerous experiment is so cool, it has its own nickname.

In regards to this experiment and with being a chemist, I would not go anywhere near this experiment without a blast shield ready (which is actually a standard piece of equipment in most organic chemistry labs. You haven't lived until you go into a weapons store and ask for a riot shield for your lab).