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Butane Bubbles

Hi readers! We just finished Chemistry Camp for Middle School Girls for the 7th consecutive year, which basically meant that for a full week, 55 middle school girls came to the University of Rhode Island to learn about, engage in, and discuss all manners of science. In honor of Chemistry Camp #7, I am going to review some of our newer experiments and talk about the science behind them.

Experiment 1: Butane Bubbles

Safety Note: This experiment involves fire and is dangerous. If you want to try this experiment at home, be sure that you have a fire extinguisher and take all necessary safety precautions prior to starting.

Instructions: Fill a container with water and some dish soap. Then take a cylinder with butane gas and compress the cylinder so that butane goes into the water. This will result in the creation of bubbles in the solution, and is also likely to create a foul, rotten-egg odor from the butane. Once you have created that solution, you can either: (1) Light the butane bubbles on fire; or (2) Scoop up some bubble solution in your hands and then light the butane bubbles on fire.

What is the science? Butane is a highly flammable gas, which means that it burns relatively easily. It also burns at a low temperature, however, which means that the flames themselves tend not to be all that hot. When your hands are full of the bubble solution, the butane will burn and the water and soap will not, creating a fascinating effect without too much danger to yourself. If you are nervous about doing this experiment in your hands, lighting the bubbles on fire while still in the pan will also create some pretty dramatic results.

For more information about butane bubble science, check out the links below:

Check out a picture of our very own Ben Cromwell doing this experiment at a recent event:

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