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4 Experiments You Can Do Using a Bunsen Burner

Nov 30,2021 by Edulab

The humble Bunsen burner is one of the most used pieces of kit in any laboratory. In previous articles we have touched on what a Bunsen burner is and how to use it safely, and today we are diving into some of the best experiments that can be completed with this equipment.

Bunsen burners have been around since 1885 and are found in everything from science classrooms to large, commercial labs. They work by mixing air and gas to create extremely high temperatures in a controlled manner, making them suitable for loads of different applications. Here are 4 experiments you can complete using a Bunsen burner:

#1 Flame Resistant Paper

This experiment is great for demonstrating how different liquids can affect the way paper burns. You will need three clean glass beakers. Fill one with water, one with ethanol, and one with a 50/50 mix of ethanol and water. Cut three small pieces of paper (about the size of a 50 pence piece).

Using a pair of tongs, dip one piece of paper into the beaker of water, and then hold it over the Bunsen burner flame, and notice how it will not ignite. Next, do the same by dipping a bit of paper in the ethanol. This time the paper and the ethanol will burn immediately. Finally, dip the third piece of paper in the water and ethanol mix and hold over the flame. You will see that the flame will burn away the ethanol on the paper, but the paper itself will not ignite.


#2 The Levitating Flame

The levitating flame Bunsen burner experiment has been used in laboratories and lessons for decades. It is a fantastic way of demonstrating convection and conduction to students of all ages. This experiment uses the basic principles of a miner’s safety lamp, also known as a Davy lamp.

Start with a Bunsen burner on a blue flame and pick up a copper gauze using some metal tongs. Slowly lower the gauze into the flame, holding it in one corner and lowering the opposite corner. You will see how the flame turns from roaring blue to orange, which indicates a fast drop in temperature.

Continue lowering the gauze slowly until it is eventually touching the top of the burner. At this stage, it will turn blue again, but the flame will not go out. Hold it here for 30 seconds to one minute and then slowly lift the gauze to about 3-4cm above the burner. You will notice that the flame stays above the gauze, and there is no flame coming directly from the Bunsen burner. It is possible to pass your finger through the gap between the Bunsen and the gauze without burning yourself as this area is not ignited.


#3 Ion Flame Tests

An extremely common Bunsen burner experiment which is used in schools is the flame test. It is used to identify ions in various compounds. Each metal ion produces a different colour flame when subjected to a high heat. This is the basis behind a Bunsen burner flame test.

Start by dipping a clean wire loop into the solid compound you want to test. Carefully hold the wire loop at the edge of the Bunsen on a blue flame and observe which colour it turns. Some of the most common metal ions and their respective flame test colour are:

  • Lithium: Red
  • Sodium: Yellow
  • Potassium: Lilac
  • Calcium: Orange-Red
  • Barium: Green
  • Copper: Blue-green


#4 The Screaming Jelly Baby

This unique Bunsen burner experiment is perfect for demonstrating the energy content in a favourite childhood sweet. Make sure you only conduct this exercise in a well-ventilated room with plenty of space and no smoke detectors nearby. You will need to set up a clean boiling tube at a 45 degree angle over a Bunsen burner.

Begin by measuring out 7g of Potassium Chlorate into the boiling tube. Turn on the Bunsen burner and heat the tube until all of the Potassium Chloride as melted. Be careful not to continue heating it after it has melted, the trick is to turn off the heat as soon as this is done. When the Bunsen burner is off, drop one jelly baby sweet into the tube using a pair of tongs.

At this point, the sugar in the jelly baby is oxidised, creating coloured flames, a lot of smoke and a screaming noise. This demonstrates just how much energy is in a single sweet through visual and audio representation. The average jelly baby delivers roughly 100 kilojoules of energy.