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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: A copper-acetone lantern

by Manny Morone
March 24, 2020


A star made out of copper wire glows orange-red against a dark background.
Credit: D. J. Hall

This star sculpted with copper wire glows red hot thanks to some catalytic chemistry. D. J. Hall, a PhD student at Drexel University, contributed this photo to Drexel’s series of photos exhibiting the beauty of chemistry. First, Hall heated the wire in air till it was red hot, then suspended it in a flask with a tiny bit of acetone at the bottom. The reaction between the hot copper and oxygen in the air converted copper on the wire’s surface to copper (II) oxide. When the oxide reacted with acetone vapor in the flask, the reaction created acetaldehyde, carbon dioxide, water, copper metal, and a good bit of heat. The copper metal—heated by the reaction—reacts with oxygen left over in the flask, which regenerates copper oxide, continues the catalytic cycle, and keeps the wire glowing red until the acetone is consumed or the copper wire melts, as it’s starting to here.

Submitted by D. J. Hall

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