TeachEngineering.org activity contributed by the National Science Foundation GK-12 and Research Experience for Teachers programs, University of Houston. Click HERE for additional Harry Potter engineering units.
High school students learn how common pop-culture references, specifically Harry Potter books, can relate to such core chemistry concepts as reaction rates and thermodynamics by making and demonstrating their own “magic wands” (sparklers). The activity concludes with a class duel — a face-off between wands of two different chemical compositions. This lab also can serve as a fun advanced placement course review.
Grade Level: 11-12
Time: 135 minutes over 2 days (90 minutes to make sparklers, 45 minutes to use in activity)
Pyrotechnics has been a part of human society for thousands of years—from signal flares to starburst chemistry. The scientific concepts embedded in this activity — reaction rates, Gibb’s free energy, process chemistry and metallurgy —are used by chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, and explosives engineers in the development of many materials, some of which become the ingredients in what we see as the “magic” of pyrotechnics.
After doing this activity, students should be able to:
- Identify reaction products from a reaction description.
- Calculate and determine whether a reaction is spontaneous using standard thermodynamic data.
- Infer reaction spontaneity by applying definitions of enthalpy, entropy, and Gibb’s free energy.
- Understand what is meant by spontaneous reaction and how this relates to reactivity when multiple elements are involved.
- Determine the difference between kinetics and thermodynamics.
- Manipulate chemical reactions and conduct stoichiometric calculations.
- Identify the importance of oxidizers and reducers in high-intensity reactions.
Next Generation Science Standards
- Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs. (Grades 9 – 12)
International Technology and Engineering Educators Association
- A. Asking questions and making observations helps a person to figure out how things work.
- C. Troubleshooting is a way of finding out why something does not work so that it can be fixed.
- Q. Malfunctions of any part of a system may affect the function and quality of the system.
- movie clip of Harry choosing his wand from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (show students a portion of a video of the movie, or use the 3:55 minute video clip of that part of the movie on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5whe9XtdQgw
- 1 or more sparklers, made with materials and procedures described in this document
- lab surface/table with stationary lighter or Bunsen burner
- whiteboard, markers, and erasers
- 9 g dextrin (starch)
- 20 ml distilled water (available at grocery stores)
- 20 cm length, 2 mm diameter Fe wire (iron wire available at hardware stores)
- 150 ml beaker
- stir rod
- hot plate
- test tube rack
- 18 x 150 mm test tube
- oven capable of 120° C
- aprons, goggles, and fume hood
- scale with weighing dishes, to measure ingredients
- wash bottle, for cleaning glassware
- hair dryer (optional)
- W&C Student Lab Handout, one per student
- 5 g iron powder (-200 mesh)
- 1.0 g magnesium powder (-325 mesh)
- 7.0 g aluminum powder (-40 + 325 mesh)
- 6 g barium nitrate
- 25 g potassium nitrate
- powdered metals: iron, aluminum, magnesium
- nitrates: potassium and barium nitrate
- miscellaneous: dextrin, iron wire, distilled water
- Chemical engineers use their understanding of physical (chemistry, physics) and life sciences (biology, microbiology, biochemistry) to develop systems to process raw chemicals into usable or more valuable materials. Think about the binding resin used in fireworks. Some resins come from corn, but the actual ingredient does not look like corn.
- Metallurgical engineers use physical science concepts to develop methods for extracting metals from raw ore, and processes and treatments for creating metal alloys of varying compositions and mechanical properties.
- Mechanical engineers use physics and metallurgy (material science) in combination to analyze and develop mechanical systems. Conveyor systems, rotary components (shafts, gears, belts) and control systems (electrical process control devices) are all needed to run successful processing plants to make the ingredients used in this lab.
- Explosives engineers use principles from chemistry, physics, and material science to design, develop and regulate pyrotechnics.
- Purchase enough of the sparkler chemical ingredients.
- Gather materials and make copies of the W&C Student Lab Handout.
- Make one or more sparklers for the Day 1 teacher muggle magic wand demonstration, using the materials and procedures detailed in this document.
- For the teacher demonstration, set up a stationary lighter or Bunsen burner on a standard lab surface/table, and have ready one or more sparklers.
- For the student lab, set up three or four stations with hot plates, stirring rods, beakers, distilled water and pre-measured dextrin. If possible, provide one hair dryer per station.
- Inorganic ingredients must remain under fume hood. One scooper per ingredient.
- Open the activity with a brief introduction about wizardry, chemistry, pyrotechnics, and engineering.
- To focus the class on the activity objective, show a short video clip of Harry Potter choosing his wand.
- Lead a class discussion, as described in the Assessment section.
- Conduct a muggle magic wand demonstration. NOTE: This presentation should take no longer than 20 minutes. Demonstration suggestion:
- On a standard lab surface/table with students in their seats, have ready one or more sparklers and either a stationary lighter or Bunsen burner.
- Over an open flame (from the stationed lighter or Bunsen burner) chant a magic spell, waive the wand as Harry Potter would, and ignite the sparkler. (SHOWMANSHIP IS EVERYTHING!!!)
- With the sparkler lit, tell the students “You are going to make your own magic wand!” and transition into the activity objectives and safety precautions.
- Direct students to get their appropriate protective equipment (goggles, aprons, gloves etc.) for the laboratory, and to put on their lab aprons and safety goggles.
- Direct the class to organize into groups of three student each. Pass out the lab handout.
- Assign teams each a sparkler number that corresponds to a particular “recipe.”
- Assign a group name or number for sparkler labeling.
- Following instructions on the lab handout, have each group begin mixing and heating the starch solution, and proceed in a safe manner (observing the laboratory safety rules).
- One group at a time, under the fume hood, have students measure the inorganic ingredients and pour them into the starch mixture.
- Then have teams move back to their stations to continue following the lab handout instructions.
- Once all groups are finished making their sparklers, bake them before Day 2.
- Place 9 g of dextrin in a 150 ml beaker and add distilled water.
- While stirring, heat the starch mixture gently; heat until it makes a paste.
- Using separate weighing dishes under the fume hood, measure to the nearest gram the listed ingredients.
- Remove the beaker from the heat, add inorganic ingredients to the starch solution and stir. Perform this step under the fume hood until the mixture is uniform.
- Pour/scrape the entire mixture into a test tube.
- Quickly, dip the iron wire into the test tube, making sure to have an even coat along the length of the submerged wire.
- Pull the coated wire out of the test tube and begin drying the paste using a hair dryer positioned approximately 10 cm from the coated wire.
- During drying, rotate the wire to keep the paste on the wire.
- Once the mixture is no longer runny, stand the coated wire in the test tube rack.
- To dry thoroughly, place the rack in a 120° C oven for one to three hours.
- Outside, use a lighter to ignite the top of the coated wire. Let the chemistry begin!
- While students are waiting to measure ingredients to make their sparklers, have them work on the problem set in the lab handout.
- Require students to complete all handout questions and problems before they are allowed to participate in the wizardry duel on Day 2. NOTE: The 90-miniute period should include plenty of time to complete the handout, but if not, have students finish the handout as homework.
- Ask students to put on their lab aprons and safety goggles.
- Pass out sparklers to each group and instruct students to walk outside the school building.
- When outside, divide the class into two groups, based on sparkler type 1 or 2.
- Have students line-up in two rows facing each other and prepare for a duel. NOTE: Students are allowed to take on any wizardry poses they like.
- Instructor and one volunteer begin lighting the sparklers. Students then light the sparklers next to them. As needed, re-light the sparklers.
- Sit back and watch the magic at hand!!!
- W&C Introduction Discussion Questions & Answers (pdf)
- W&C Introduction Discussion Questions & Answers (doc)
- W&C Student Lab Handout (pdf)
- W&C Student Lab Handout (doc)
- W&C Student Lab Handout Answers (pdf
- W&C Student Lab Handout Answers (doc)
- W&C Post-Duel Discussion Questions & Answers (pdf)
- W&C Post-Duel Discussion Questions & Answers (doc)
- CAUTION!! The ingredients is this lab are reactive when exposed to certain conditions so handle them only as instructed and with care. Following the instructions ensures that the materials are safe for handling.
- Students are to wear safety goggles and aprons on both testing days.
- Use spare containers to store waste. Make sure all waste is disposed of according to appropriate state and local guidelines.
- Can you create science magic with chemistry?
- How would you make a magic wand in this science laboratory?
Activity Embedded Assessment
Engineering Out of Harry Potter. Projectiles, acids and bases, and other hands-on lessons from the University of Houston that explore the chemistry and engineering behind the wizardry taught at Hogwart’s.
Harry Potter’s World. The National Library of Medicine’s traveling exhibit on Renaissance science, magic & medicine includes classroom activities on such things as Boggart and Fear in Harry Potter.
Making Sparklers. A how-to guide from the American Chemical Association.
Show students additional Harry Potter movie clips that show magic wands in use, such as the following:
- Harry Potter 5 Duel (Voldemort vs. Dumbledore) (2:44 min) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWpHRwkBLUo
- Harry Potter – Dueling Club (4:57 min) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEPhYhKdJ7k
Chase, Malcolm W. Jr., NIST-JANAF Thermochemical Tables, 4th edition. Woodbury, NY: American Institute of Physics, 1998.
Copes, Jane Snell, “The Chemical Wizardry of J.K. Rowling,” Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 83, No. 10, October 2006, pp. 1479-1483. Accessed December 4, 2011. (Source of answers for introduction discussion questions)
Keeney, Allen, Christina Walters, Richard D. Cornelius, “Making Sparklers: An Introductory Laboratory Experiment,” Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 72, No. 7, July 1995, pp. 652-653. DOI: 10.1021/ed072p652
Lide, David R., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 90th edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009-10.
Rowling, J.K., “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc., 1997, pg. 85.
Shakhashiri, Bassam Z. “Chemical of the Week: Fireworks.” Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Accessed December 4, 2011. http://www.scifun.org
Other Related Information
- Manipulate chemical quantities
- Solve problems using dimensional analysis
- Demonstrate safe laboratory practices
- Write and balance chemical equations
- Calculate the masses of reactants and products using chemical equations
- Demonstrate the use of limiting reagents in stoichiometric calculations
- Provide a molecular explanation for the factors that affect the rate of a reaction: nature of reactants, surface area, concentration, physical state and catalysis
Marc Bird, Eugene Chiappetta
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2011 University of Houston
Last modified: December 30, 2014
Tags: Advanced Placement, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Class Activities, Energy, Grades 9-12, Harry Potter, Next Generation Science Standards, reaction rates, sparklers, STEM education, stochiometry, wand