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20 Minute Labs: Levitating Match

20 minute labs logo | Yellow Scope

MAKE A MATCH FLOAT LIKE MAGIC!

miss peregrines book | Yellow Scope
Have you ever seen something float in the air? Like bubbles or a bunch of dandelion seeds? What about something that you thought should be too heavy to float, like Olive's character in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children?


A thing that floats in the air when it seems like gravity should pull it down is said to be levitating.

In this month's 20 Minute Lab, we'll use science and the power of heat and fusion to make a match appear to defy gravity and levitate!

Safety Warning: Adult supervision is required for this experiment; it involves lighting a match.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
match levitating supplies | Yellow Scope
  • an adult to supervise and light a match
  • matchbox
  • 3 wooden matches (cardboard matches won't work)
  • thumb tack
  • small bowl with some water in it

LET'S GET STARTED!

  1. First, empty your matchbox. Move all but 3 matches away from your work area.
  2. Flip the matchbox over.
  3. match positioning | Yellow Scope
    Push the thumb tack into the top (just off center) to create a hole. Wiggle the tack around to make it just big enough to hold a single match with a snug fit.
  4. Now, place the matchbox on a flat, safe, inflammable surface like a metal tray or ceramic dish. (The wood table we used has a thick resin on it). Make sure to remove any flammable materials like paper from the area. 
  5. Push one match into the hole, with red matchhead pointing up.
  6. Now, gently place a second match on the box so that it leans onto the other match, with their heads touching. (See photo.)
  7. match placement | Yellow Scope
    Ask an adult to light a third match and use it to light the middle of the wooden shaft of the leaning match from underneath.
  8. Place the used match in the bowl of water to extinguish the flame.
  9. See what happens! If you didn't see levitation, try the experiment again.
  10. Make sure to blow out the flames before it reaches the matchbox.
  11. Put the used matches in the bowl of water to make sure they won't still be hot or dangerous.


WHAT'S GOING ON?

Did you see you matchstick levitate?!

To understand what happened, we need to know a little bit about what heat (fire in this case) can do to a matchstick.

A match is a fibrous material made of wood. As the leaning match burned, the water inside the match evaporated, and the wood shriveled and darkened. This makes it lighter than the vertical match (which, is also, of course, secured in its matchbox hole).

matchheads | Yellow Scope
When the flame reached the two matchstick heads, you saw that it made a tiny explosion! A matchhead is made up of very flammable materials (often potassium chlorate). This extreme heat is so hot it can rearrange molecules. When the two matchheads cooled, their molecules had been mixed, in other words, they fused together.

 
As the fire continued to burn the leaning match, it started to bend, becoming contorted. Because it is so light, it can bend up off the box. The head stays stuck to the other match though, so the leaning match appears to levitate!

SHARE WITH US!

Let us know how your experiments turned out! Share your photos and results with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or send us an email to info@yellow-scope.com. We love getting your messages!

For more exciting experiments, check out our Yellow Scope science kits on the Shop tab of our website!




Chelsea Schuyler
Chelsea Schuyler

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