Piezo Ping Pong Popper
Publication No. 12013
Demonstrate piezoelectricity while performing this exciting micro-scaled explosion!
Piezoelectricity, defined as the change from mechanical to electrical energy resulting from stress, is found in everyday items such as watches, microphones, pressure gauges and grill lighters. Quartz, SiO2, is a perfect example of how piezoelectricity works. Quartz is composed of silicon and oxygen atoms that are neatly arranged in rows throughout a crystal lattice. When pressure is applied to a quartz crystal, the oxygen ions, which are negatively charged, move in relation to the positively charged silicon atoms. The centers of positive and negative charges in the quartz crystal no longer cancel and a voltage occurs.
The piezoelectric lighter given in this kit does not actually contain quartz. Instead, it contains a ceramic piece that has been formed under an electric field which properly aligns the atoms during formation. When stressed, this ceramic piece can generate between 13,000 and 15,000 volts! The igniter holds the ceramic piece in a small plastic case along with a steel hammer that is attached to a spring mechanism. When the button of the igniter is pressed, the spring is compressed until it reaches a point where it releases the hammer. The hammer then rapidly strikes the ceramic piece. Piezoelectricity is generated, runs through the wires of the circuit and creates a spark between the small gap in the wires.
In this demonstration, the piezoelectric igniter will be used to burn ethyl alcohol in a small enclosed space—a ping pong popper. As the current enters into the popper and a spark forms, combustion of the ethyl alcohol–air mixture occurs. As the ethyl alcohol–air mixture burns, a large amount of energy is released due to the formation of carbon dioxide and water molecules. The energy heats the carbon dioxide and water vapor molecules that are formed in the initial reaction and causes the gases to expand. The expansion of the gases exerts a large amount of force on the side of the canister and lid. This force pops the top off the canister and launches the lid through the air.
(for each demonstration)
Ethyl alcohol, 95%, 2 mL (~ 40 drops)
Ping pong ball
Ping pong popper assembly
Be very careful when performing this demonstration. Ethyl alcohol is a flammable liquid and a dangerous fire risk. Do not use more than 2 mL of ethyl alcohol. Do not substitute a more volatile liquid; many are dangerously combustible. Do not ignite the alcohol without the ping pong ball in place! Wear chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant gloves and a chemical-resistant apron. Please review current Safety Data Sheets for additional safety, handling and disposal information.
Please consult your current Flinn Scientific Catalog/Reference Manual for general guidelines and specific procedures, and review all federal, state and local regulations that may apply, before proceeding. The piezoelectric apparatus may be used again and again. Excess alcohol may be disposed of according to Flinn Suggested Disposal Method #26b.
Student Worksheet PDF
Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)†
Science & Engineering PracticesConstructing explanations and designing solutions
Disciplinary Core IdeasMS-PS1.B: Chemical Reactions
HS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
HS-PS1.B: Chemical Reactions
Crosscutting ConceptsEnergy and matter
HS-PS1-2. Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
Answers to Questions
Special thanks to retired teachers Walter Rohr and Lee Marek for providing this activity.