The Combustion of Lycopodium Powder
Description: Lycopodium powder is squeezed from a squirt bottle into a candle flame, and is shown to be readily ignitable. Another portion of lycopodium powder is poured to form a small mound on a watch glass. A match is touched to the pile of lycopodium and, to the surprise of the class, fizzles a little, but never completely combusts. The candle is then set onto the ground and lit. A long cardboard tube is set over the candle, and lycopodium powder is dropped into the tube from a notecard. A small explosion occurs and flames shoot from the top of the tube.
Concept: Lycopodium powder is made up of waxy spores from club moss. It was once used as flash powder in early photography. When the powder is squirted into a flame, much of its surface area is exposed to the oxygen in the air and is readily combustible. The surface area exposed to oxygen is greatly reduced when the powder is in a pile, and only the grains on the surface of the pile will ignite.
Make sure the area surrounding the demonstration is clear of any flammable materials. Wear goggles or safety glass when performing this demonstration. This demonstration will involve having your hands near a short-lived flame. If you would like to wear some thermal gloves, please request them.
Light the candle using the matches provided and squirt the lycopodium powder from the squirt bottle directly into the flame. You will want to hold the tip of the bottle a foot or so from the flame and direct it so that the flame produced runs in a direction parallel to the audience. Open the bottle and pour a small mound of powder onto the watch glass. Light a match and touch it to the surface of the mound. You may want to repeat this several times to verify that the pile will not ignite. Pour the powder from the watch glass into the groove of a note card that has been folded into a “V” shape. Light the candle once more and set it onto the ground. Place the cardboard tube over the lit candle and quickly dump the powder from the note card down the tube. Do this with an extended arm and make sure to pull your hand away from the opening once the powder is dropped.