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Combustion of Steel Wool

Summary

Steel Wool is burned in an oxygen rich environment which dramatically increases the rate of reaction.

Hazards

Oxygen is an oxidizer.

Chemicals and Solutions

  • oxygen tank
  • steel wool

Materials

  • one large cylinder with sand in the bottom
  • large cover glass
  • tongs
  • bunsen burner and matches
  • goggles

Procedure

  1. Fill the cylinder with oxygen and cover it with a large glass square.
  2. Holding a piece of steel wool with tongs, ignite the steel wool by placing it in the flame of a bunsen burner.
  3. Quickly remove the glass cover and put the glowing steel wool into the oxygen.
  4. The steel wool will burn very brightly.

Discussion

Steel wool (iron) will burn in air quite gently, since air is about 20% (by volume) oxygen. When the steel wool is placed in 100% oxygen the reaction proceeds much faster and vigorously.

\( \ce{ 4Fe_{(s)} + 3O2_{(g)} -> 2Fe2O3_{(s)} } \)

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