Backyard Science: Flame Tests For Identifying Salts

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Some elements can be identified by the colors they emit while burning. This is a quality that chemists use to identify salts, by burning them. In this video, a science teacher douses several exotic salts in methanol and ignites all of them at the same time. The results are really spectacular -- green, orange, yellow, blue, and purple flames burning side by side. [2:01]

Do not do this in your parents' kitchen or you will become very good friends with the local fire department, and probably the local police as well.

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It's the 4th of July, and here in the U.S., that usually means fireworks.* What could be better than explosions in pretty colors? Maybe a few details of how firework makers get those colors into the fireworks. If you've taken a chemistry course with a lab, you may remember having done "flame tests…

Very nice.

Just remember to NEVER, NEVER have your stock methanol bottle open when there is open flame about. People get injured/die almost every year in schools doing this kind of thing. (Often by squirting more alcohol on the flames as they die down)


I decided to stop doing this for concern about breathing heavy metals, but rubidium is cool - really red (but so is lithium usually)- and lead makes a very strange looking white flame (in the fume hood of course!) Strontium has a radioactive isotope that becomes lodged in the body because of its similarity to calcium. Very good demo, but don't inhale!

By uncle noel (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

Also, any high school students/young undergrads reading this, recall that methanol is POISONOUS. Even inhaling the vapour can cause blindness/death.

The flame test experiments should be part of a standard chemistry lab, where you'll perform it in a much safer and controlled way.