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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume x Issue x (2006) pp 271-280

A Meteor Impact the Classroom? A Micro and Nano View of the Thermite Reaction

Thomas J. Manning,*, Giso Abadi, James Nienow, Eric Lochner, Kim Riddle,**Dennis Phillips, David A. Kring

Department of Chemistry, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA 31698; Department of Biology, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA, 31698; MARTECH, Physics Department, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306; Electron Microscope Facility, Biology Department, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fl 32306; Biological and Chemical Mass Spectrometry Facility, Chemistry Department, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, NASA/UA Space Imagery Center, UA Meteorite Recovery Program, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721;
Received August 4, 2005. Accepted March 5, 2006.

Published online: 30 June 2006

Abstract. The thermite reaction releases energy in a very visual fashion. It involves a metal oxide, such as iron(III) oxide, reacting with aluminum metal (dust). This reaction is useful for chemical demonstrations because its incendiary appearance often captivates students. In this work, fluorinated graphite dust and diamond dust are seeded in with the reactants and we demonstrate that it produces interesting structures, such as micrometer-sized hollow iron spheres and nanometer-sized carbon onions. This demonstration is introduced at two levels of an undergraduate curriculum: general chemistry and instrumental analysis. Using different variations of the thermite reaction, traditional topics, such as molecular geometries, bond energies, oxidation and reduction potentials, and thermodynamics can be blended with material science and nanotechnology. In instrumental analysis a number of techniques are used to identify the products. The reaction is also used as a conduit for interdisciplinary topics such as meteor chemistry and magnetochemistry.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; general chemistry; instrumental analysis; thermodynamics

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

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Issue date: August 1, 2006

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