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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 19 (2014) pp 305-309

Lightning in a Bottle: Measuring NOx Formed by Electrical Discharge in an Inquiry-Based General Chemistry Laboratory Experiment

Kurt Winkelmann*, Monica H. Baloga, and Alfred Menendez

Department of Chemistry, Florida Institute of Technology, 150 West University Blvd, Melbourne, FL 32901,
Received May 19, 2014. Accepted September 27, 2014.

Published: 10 October 2014

Abstract. Students in general chemistry laboratory investigate the formation of nitrogen oxides (NOx) gases produced by electrical discharge under different experimental conditions. In the first week of this three-week laboratory experiment, students generate NOx gases using the electrical discharge of a Tesla coil to break down N2 and O2 in air. After mixing the reacted sample of gas with an aqueous indicator solution, they quantify the concentration of NOx using spectrophotometric techniques. They select a research question related to the experiment to investigate during the next two laboratory sessions and develop a hypothesis. Based on skills learned during the first week, students design their own experimental procedure, interpret their data, and report an appropriate conclusion. This inquiry experiment introduces students to traditional chemistry topics (e.g., gas laws, dilutions and oxidation-reduction reactions) as well as applications of chemistry such as lightning and atmospheric science.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; general chemistry; atmospheric chemistry; inquiry; formation of NOx gases

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

Article in PDF format (260 KB) HTML format

Supporting Materials:

Supporting materials for this article include (1) the laboratory handout containing background, procedure, research questions and supplementary information for students, (2) the spreadsheet used to graph data and calculate NOx concentrations and (3) instructions for preparing solutions used in this experiment (285 KB).

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