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An instructor and two children pour three cups of powder into a bin of red liquid. Suddenly — poof — a cloud of what looks like cotton candy explodes toward the ceiling.
This popular video on Twitter comes courtesy of the Malay-language account w, which shares science content. But what is going on in the video?
Reaction - Ingredients - Hydrogen - Peroxide - Soap
The reaction uses cheap, easy-to-access ingredients: hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, potassium iodide and food coloring. Hydrogen peroxide is key. It's made up of two hydrogen and two oxygen molecules. The bonds between these molecules naturally break, so over time, hydrogen peroxide slowly becomes water and oxygen gas. That reaction happens faster when exposed to light, Hostetler said, which is why hydrogen peroxide is sold in brown bottles.
Normally, the slow breakup (or decomposition, in chemistry terms) of hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen is unnoticeable. But the elephant's toothpaste experiment speeds the process with a catalyst, a chemical compound that increases the rate of a given reaction. Potassium iodide — a salt of iodine, and the dietary supplement that's used to add iodine to table salt — provides that catalyst.
Presence - Potassium - Iodide - Hydrogen - Peroxide
"In the presence of potassium iodide, hydrogen peroxide decomposes almost immediately," Hostetler said.
The setup is simple. Hydrogen peroxide is mixed with dish soap, and food coloring is often added for a dramatic effect (which explains the cotton-candy pink in the Twitter video). The potassium iodide is added, and the iodide ion that's part of that compound attracts the oxygen in the hydrogen peroxide, breaking the bonds and rapidly transforming the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen gas. The oxygen molecules then get trapped by the soap, forming bubbles, Hostetler said. In a step sometimes added to the elephant's toothpaste demonstration, a glowing splint — a strip of wood that is hot but...
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