Elementary Chemistry: Copper-Plating a Nail

We jumped into practical chemistry today with this experiment from Wholly Irresponsible Experiments.

To be honest, for all my recent intention to become more hands-on with science, I had planned to ease gently back in after our week away skiing, by watching Chemistry, A Volatile History. I hadn’t counted on C (8) and J (6)  being so inspired by what they saw that they wanted to leap straight into being chemists themselves!  (There’s nothing like a break to recharge the homeschool enthusiasm!)

As soon as the end credits on the documentary began to roll, J jumped off the sofa and headed towards the bathroom, blithely announcing he was “off  to make some potions”.  Remembering that a similar impromptu potion-making session had got through the large part of a £35 tube of my Laura Mercier foundation,  I quickly grabbed Wholly Irresponsible Experiments and began setting up this easy and fun experiment.

What You Need

  • 12 dull copper coins
  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Small bowl (we used a ramekin)
  • Teaspoon
  • Iron nail (ungalvanised) or 2
  • Kitchen paper

What You Do

  1. Pour the vinegar into a small bowl.
  2. Stir in the salt.
  3. Put the copper coins into the bowl so that they are completely submerged.
  4. After 5 minutes use a spoon to remove the coins
  5. Put the nail into the bowl. Notice little bubbles begin to form on it.
  6. After 30 minutes use a spoon to remove the nail

What Happens

The nail comes out copper coloured! If you have a second nail you can compare the two.

The Scientific Explanation

Copper from the coins goes into the salt and vinegar solution and attaches to the nail, producing a copper-plated nail.  For more on the science see this site.

Verdict on the Experiment

A resounding success.  Fast, easy and very cool!

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