In this experiment we will make fire from batteries and steel wool. We will demonstrate how
to use electricity to make heat and sparks. Then harness the sparks to create a fire. The
project is easy and definitely fun to see. A regular 9 volt battery and extra fine steel wool are
all we need for this experiment. We will also learn about fire safety and the "Fire Triangle".
- Thin / Very Fine Steel Wool - 0000 Works Best (Home Depot or Lowe's).
- 9 volt battery
- Baking pan
Process Fire From Battery and Steel Wool Experiment:
1) With adult supervision, pull the steel wool pad apart until it's the size of a tennis ball.
2) Then stretch the pad into thin strips that all inter-connect.
3) Place the steel wool in the baking pan.
4) Turn off the lights.
5) Touch the ends of the battery to the steel wool.
Watch Video: Fire From Battery and Steel Wool Experiment
The Science Behind Fire From Battery And Steel Wool
The threads in the steel wool are made of iron. These iron threads are surrounded by
pockets of oxygen unlike a solid block of iron. That causes it to combust or burn very easily.
The electrons from the battery move rapidly creating electricity which makes a complete
circuit when it touches the steel wool. The electricity moves like a fluid and flows through the
iron threads generating heat along the way. The heat creates sparks.
The fire triangle or combustion triangle is a simple model, from the practitioners of
firefighting, for understanding the ingredients necessary for most fires. It has largely been
replaced in the industry by the fire tetrahedron, which add further aspects, but still does not
explain fire fighting sufficiently. It is also described below.
The triangle illustrates the rule that in order to ignite and burn, a fire requires three elements:
heat, fuel, and an oxidizing agent (usually oxygen). The fire is prevented or extinguished by
removing any one of them. A fire naturally occurs when the elements are combined in the
Without sufficient heat, a fire cannot begin, and it cannot continue. Heat can be removed by
dousing with water; the water turns to steam and the steam is further heated, taking the heat
with it. Introducing particles of powder or any gas in the flame removes heat in the same
manner. Separating burning fuels from each other also reduces the heat. In forest fires,
burning logs are separated and placed into safe areas where there is no other fuel. Scraping
embers from a burning structure also removes the heat source. Turning off the electricity in
an electrical fire removes the ignition source.
Without fuel, a fire will stop. Fuel can be removed naturally, as where the fire has consumed
all the burnable fuel, or manually, by mechanically or chemically removing the fuel from the
fire. Fuel separation is an important factor in wildland fire suppression, and is the basis for
most major tactics, such as controlled burns. Note, however, that the fire stops because a
lower concentration of fuel vapor in the flame leads to a decrease in energy release and a
lower temperature. Removing the fuel thereby decreases the heat.
Without sufficient Oxygen, a fire cannot begin, and it cannot continue. With a decreased
oxygen concentration, the combustion velocity gets lower. But, in most cases there is plenty
of air left when the fire goes out so this is commonly not a major factor. An example of this is
that when adding inert gases, you need about 30% carbon dioxide, but about 40% nitrogen to
suppress a flame. If the removal of oxygen was the point, the concentrations should be
equal. The explanation is that carbon dioxide requires more energy to be heated and
therefore a lower concentration. So, once again, it is all about reducing the temperature in the
flame below the level where radicals can exist.
These days the Boy Scout manual instructs Scouts to start a fire with a steel wool pads and a
9-volt battery rather than the traditional method of starting a fire with flint and steel. To
accomplish this, they do not string the wool threads out as we did in the experiment above.
But instead leave it in a ball. When the electricity flows through the ball, it will form a red hot
amber in the middle. That amber can be transferred to a small pile of dry leaves, grass, and
kindle to start the fire. After placing the amber on the dry kindle pile, you need to blow on it
(pumping in oxygen to get the material to ignite into a fire). Now go and make some
controlled fire from a battery and steel wool.
Warning: Do not start fires without adult supervision
Source for fire triangle: Wikipedia
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