Halloween Chemistry

October brings an opportunity to focus on the “magic” and special effects that surround Halloween. The links below share a wide range of demonstrations and activities, from jack-o-lanterns with different colored flames, to chemistry Halloween costumes, to ways to investigate your trick-or-treat candy.

Demonstrations

  • Rainbow Fire Halloween Pumpkin
    Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is smeared on a jack-o-lantern and a powdered flame colorant, such as boric acid, is sprinkled onto it. It can then be ignited and will emit a colored flame.
  • Green Fire Halloween Jack-o-Lantern
    Using boric acid and a little methanol in your jack-o-lantern creates a green flame to make your jack-o-lantern spookier.
  • Witches’ Potion
    This site describes an acid–base demonstration that uses ammonia, acetic acid, and phenolphthalein. The link includes a poem about witches that can accompany the demonstration.
  • Glow in the Dark Pumpkin
    Tip: For a longer-lasting pumpkin, use artificial carvable pumpkins instead of fresh. The pumpkins can often be found in hobby and fabric stores. One brand on the Internet is “Funkins”.
  • Halloween Nassau Reaction
    The Old Nassau demonstration is a clock reaction that ties in well with Halloween because it first turns orange, then black. The reaction typically uses mercury compounds, which can have environmental concerns. One of the links describes a modification where a 0.025 M aqueous solution of silver nitrate is substituted for the mercury(II) chloride solution.
    Video of "Halloween Clock Reaction"

    Directions for Old Nassau Demonstration (Uses Mercury)

    Modification to Nassau Reaction (No Mercury)
    (J. Chem. Educ. article, requires subscriber password to access full article)
  • Dry Ice Crystal Ball Bubble
    Create a simple crystal ball filled with a cloud like mixture using dry ice.
    Method 1

    Method 2
  • Dry Ice Experiments
    A collection of dry ice demonstrations from Steve Spangler Science.
  • Spooky Halloween Jack-o-Lantern
    Make spooky fog come out of your jack-o-lantern using a little dry ice.
  • Goldenrod “Bleeding” Paper
    Goldenrod paper turns bright red when exposed to basic solutions, like ammonia water. Spray some ammonia-water solution on your hand to make a bloody hand print.
  • Genie in a Bottle
    This demo makes use of the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide to produce a column of steam out of a flask that looks like a genie coming out of a bottle.
  • Trash Can Smoke Ring Launcher
    Create a small blast of air or a giant ring of smoke with just a few items from the hardware store.
  • Halloween Lecture Notes
    Listing of entire show with dialogue and demonstrations.
  • A Halloween Story
    Combines story and riddle with classic demonstrations.

Experiments & Activities

  • Candy Experiments
    The experiments at this link investigate many different kinds of candy, such as separating the colors in candy dye, creating chocolate bloom, determining whether certain types of candies sink or float, and more.
  • Periodic Table of Pumpkins
    The Clarkson University student chapter of the American Chemical Society carved element symbols into pumpkins to form the periodic table.
  • Glowing Hand of Doom Punch
    A disposable glove is filled with tonic water and frozen. Afterward, it is placed in a punchbowl of punch and dry ice, along with a black light. The tonic water glows when exposed to the black light, while the punch creates bubbles and a look of fog.
  • Chemistry Halloween Costumes
    A chemistry professor invites her students to wear costumes to class that represent elements or compounds. Their classmates try to identify which they represent. For example, a person dressed as a banana could represent potassium. It includes a gallery of photos of the costumes, although no information about the specific elements.
  • Fake Flesh Recipe
    The about.com website shares a recipe for edible fake flesh using kitchen ingredients.
  • Halloween Science Experiments & Ideas
    A collection of Halloween themed experiments like: Slime, the Screaming Cup, the Ghost Bubble Sphere.
  • Halloween Feel Box Game
    This activity is useful for making observations only by feel.
  • Laundry Detergent Glowing Skull
    Create a glowing skull using laundry detergent and a black light.
  • Bloodstain Patterns
    Although more forensics-based, the pdf includes a recipe for fake blood.
  • Make Ghouly Hands
    Make plastic gloves come alive with an acid-base reaction.

Articles & Information

Candy Corn
Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
  • Halloween House
    A University of Northern Iowa student newspaper describes a chemistry-based Halloween House event sponsored by the University’s American Chemical Society student group.
  • Molecules from the Crypt
    This entry in the American Chemical Society’s Molecule of the Week feature focuses on putrescine and cadaverine, two foul-smelling compounds produced during decomposition in animals.
  • What Are You for Halloween? ...Um, a Chemist
    This 2011 blog post on the ACS Chemical & Engineering News Central Science site discusses our perceptions of chemists and also offers a few Halloween-related links.
  • Halloween Treats, Support Your Favorite Element!
    A 2009 Newscripts column in the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News described two research papers about the antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits of pumpkins and chocolate.
  • The Sweet Smell of Chocolate: Sweat, Cabbage, and Beef
    A 2011 Scientific American article discussed research related to the aroma and flavor of chocolate.

Videos & Podcasts

(all sites accessed Sep 2012)