So last weekend we ran a birthday party where the specific request from the birthday guest was to “make things explode.” Luckily for him, we love the science of explosions! Our party activities included:
1. Making elephant toothpaste from hair bleach, soap, food coloring, and yeast;
2. Making bottle rockets with vinegar and baking soda and launching them off of my thumb (note to self: next time use safety glasses);
3. Adding candy to sodas and watching the evolved gas fill up balloons or explode out of the top of the soda bottle.
So…aside from being amazingly fun, what is the science behind all of these explosions? Well, in general, these explosions all rely on the rapid build up of a gas, and when that gas builds up, it causes something to happen that is fun and exciting. In the case of the elephant toothpaste, there is an enzyme in yeast, called catalase, that catalyzes the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide found in bleach to water and oxygen. That oxygen, which is a gas, forms rapidly, and is trapped by the soap bubbles in the elephant toothpaste container to yield a large, sudsy solution.
For the baking soda and vinegar, which we can do as a volcano, or a rocket, or an explosion, the two components react to form carbon dioxide gas, which once again, can cause an explosion, or in the case of bottle rockets, build up enough pressure inside the rocket to actually launch.
Soda and candies? That’s a case where the carbon dioxide in the soda can get rapidly released once the candies are added to it. This works for a wide variety of candies, including NERDs candy, pop rocks, and Mentos. All of these are fun, but in our experience, the candy that gives the biggest explosion turns out to be the NERDs.
There are lots of other ways that you can make something explode, but these are some of our personal favorites. Share your exploding thoughts in the comments below!