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Tuesday
Aug182009

Video Demo: Sodium in Water

The alkali metals are highly reactive since they have one valence electron. One of those metals is sodium. It needs to give up one electron to become stable. When a cubic centimeter sized piece of sodium is placed into water, a vigorous chemical reaction occurs in which sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrogen gas is produced. Wikipedia provides an excellent description of what happens during the reaction.

Sodium reacts exothermically with water: small pea-sized pieces will swim around the surface of the water until they are consumed by it, whereas large pieces will explode. While sodium metal reacts with water, you can observe that the sodium piece melts with the heat of the reaction to form a perfect sphere shape if the reacting sodium is small enough. The reaction with water produces very caustic sodium hydroxide and highly flammable hydrogen gas. In any case these are considered an extreme hazard and will cause severe skin and eye injury.

In the video below a small pea sized piece of sodium is placed into water. It does ignite and explode. To avoid an explosion ice water should be used. To avoid ignition a safer method can be used in which a layer of mineral oil is placed on top of the water. The mineral doesn’t react with the sodium and prevents ignition.

For a safer sodium demo, fill a large graduated cylinder with and equal portion of water and mineral oil. The mineral oil will be on top. When sodium metal is dropped into the cylinder it won’t react with the mineral oil and when it touches the surface of the water, it reacts briefly to produce hydrogen gas bubbles, thus causing it to rise back up into the mineral oil.

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