Fire Snake: STEM Science Experiment

Australia has about 140 species of land and over 30 water snakes. Around 100 are considered venomous, but only around 12 are likely to be fatal. As we studied Australia in January, I thought it would be interesting to include as a STEM experiment.

I saw this experiment years ago and wanted to try it. Sooo I tried it out when my oldest was at school and my toddler was napping. It was a failure. So I tried it again, this time it worked more more like advertised!

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Powdered Sugar (4 tsp)
  • Baking Soda (1 tsp)
  • Dish (casserole, baking pan, pie pan)
  • Sand
  • Lighter Fluid

Mix the sugar and baking soda together until well mixed. Set aside.

Pour sand into your dish until you have about 2 inches deep across your pan. Create a small indention in the top. Saturate the sand around the indention with lighter fluid. Don’t be stingy!

Pour the sugar/baking soda mixture into the indention you made and you’re ready to summon your fire snake. 🙂

I HIGHLY recommend that you do this activity OUTSIDE. Also have a fire extinguisher available if things go wonky. I worked on my back porch where there was lots of concrete, so not much to burn.

It took awhile after I lit it to start having the chemical reaction that makes the snake. As the mixture burns, the baking soda gets hot, and it decomposes to release carbon dioxide gas. A lack of oxygen in the sugar from the combustion creates carbonate and water vapor. The pressure from the CO2 gas pushes this carbonate out to form the snake. This process takes around 15-30 minutes.

After having done this experiment about half dozen times, I’ve learned a few things:

  • Do NOT use granulated sugar, you HAVE to use powered sugar.
  • A pie pan or wider dish seems to work well.
  • Do NOT reuse the sand after you do the experiment. If you want to do it again, use fresh sand.
  • Use a lighter stick, NOT matches.
  • You’ll want to make sure your sugar/baking soda mixture is in a little pile in the middle, not spread out.

When I did this activity again with my kiddos, I made sure they were watching from far away. My youngest is only one, so she stayed behind glass doors. My oldest can listen to direction, so she was able to watch outside from a chair a few feet away.

Our little activity made several little snakes; they were not crazy big, but the wind had picked up and make it hard for the fire to concentrate the heat as much.

After the ashes had cooled we investigated our fire snakes – they are like ashes, and quite fragile. What a fun science experiment!

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