Exploding Cans Science Project

The experiment you see on the internet is not a chemical experiment at all. It is a physical reaction. This means that all of the pieces of the reaction are present, but are simply re-arranged.

If your first thought was that a tight packet of baking soda was put in a can of vinegar, you were close, but, as you know, vinegar isn’t sold in cans. (Can you tell us why?)

Carbon dioxide is dissolved in flavored water and sold in cans. This is called a saturated solution. As long as the can is sealed, the carbon dioxide is kept in the solution by the pressurized conditions. If you open the can and pour some out, as you pour it out, some of the gas is lost. Once the soda is in the glass again, surface tension will trap the gas to a degree. Interesting, isn’t it? But in neither of these conditions will a can of soda explode.

While the soda is in the bottle, the gas is kept in solution by the pressurized conditions. But after you pour some soda into a glass, the gas bubbles stay trapped in the solution by the surface tension of the water. No wonder soda makes you burp— those gas bubbles are just sitting in there waiting to escape!

So, don’t do the next part when you are close to children or unsuspecting living beings, including parents, teachers, or friends. If you agree to those terms, read on, to discover how to make a nucleation site.

Step 1. Look at a Mentos candy under a microscope (Each of those tiny bumps acts like a nucleation site, which is a place where a physical reaction can get a kick start.)Multiply each tiny bump which is a place where a bubble of carbon dioxide gas form and escape the solution. Add up the number of bumps.

Step 2. Pause for a moment to consider the implications and promise yourself you’ll only do this with mentos and soda...

Step 3. Step away from human beans, and drop one of those babies into an opened can.

Step 4. Walk away. Don’t look back.

Imagination is a lot of fun if couched with morals.

Now, let’s discipline this imagination. What word would you use to put this research (!) to further use? How about nucleation? According to Wikipedia, it’s a bit more structured and complicated than I said it was, but basically the same thing. Interestingly, it is used to seed clouds.

No. No, we’re not growing vegetables, per se. But yes, cloud seeding does help the farmers, golf course owners, and skiing industries. How? Cloud seeding disperses substances like, silver Iodide, dry ice, and salt that act as cloud condensation or ice nuclei. These alter the micro processes within the cloud. Results include increasing rain or snow as well as suppressing hail and fog…

P.S. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. I don’t want to belabor the point, sirs and ladies, but you have a choice. You can have fun with the mentos and soda. And that’s allowed.

But carry it further, the way Madam Currie and Ben Franklin did. Have a really interesting life. And, it wouldn’t hurt to make some money at science now either, would it?

Rita Meacham

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