Fire Project - Combustion Reactions - magnifying glass and fire
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Fire and Magnifying Glasses

Magnifying glass

You have to be very careful with fire, because it can burn you, or burn down your house. Make sure an adult knows when you do this experiment and thinks you are safe.

Grass, like all living things, is made out of hydrocarbon molecules. Oxygen is in the air around you. So if you put dry grass and oxygen together and get them hot enough, they'll react with each other and release energy in the form of a flame.

On a sunny day, pull up a handful of dry grass and put it on your driveway or somewhere that won't burn. Get a bucket of water and put it next to you. Use a magnifying glass (or a pair of glasses will work) to focus the sunlight on your grass, and wait for it to hear up and burst into flame. Get the focus as tight as you can, so the sunlight is all focused on just one small spot on the grass, like the head of a pin.

After you do get a fire, make sure to PUT THE FIRE OUT with the water before you leave the area.

What do you think would happen if you tried to do this in space? What would happen if you put the grass under a glass cup and then focused the sunlight on it through the glass? What happens if you use pieces of metal wire instead of the grass? How about eggshells? Rocks? A piece of ham? What happens if you put sunscreen on the ham? Make predictions, and then see whether you are right.

Ancient Greek use of burning lenses
More about combustion reactions
A slower kind of combustion reaction: rust

Bibliography and further reading:

More about fire
Chemistry
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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Now that the weather's nice, try some of these outdoor activities! How about bicycle polo, or archery for a Medieval Islam day? Or kite flying or making a compass for a day in Medieval China? How about making a shaduf for a day in Ancient Egypt? Holding an Ancient Greek Olympic Games or a medieval European tournament? Building a Native American wickiup?