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With the Nitrogen Oxides and Acid Rain Chemistry Demonstration Kit for environmental science, gases are bubbled into a large container of water containing an indicator. The water shifts from near neutral to highly acidic—the color change unmistakable.

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When nitrogen and oxygen—the two primary components of the air we breathe—combine under certain conditions, the results can be devastating. In this demonstration, nitrogen oxides are generated by the dissolution of copper in nitric acid and the resulting gases bubbled into a larger container of water containing an indicator. As the water shifts from near neutral to highly acidic, the color change is dramatic and unmistakable. And just when the reaction appears to be complete… a breathtaking surprise! Accentuate your discussion of acid rain and its causes with this remarkable demonstration. Teacher Demonstration Notes included.

Concepts: Environmental chemistry, acid–base indicators.
Time Required: 15 minutes
Note: Pre-1982 pennies and a large flask are needed, but not provided. Perform this demonstration in a fume hood or well-ventilated lab.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Asking questions and defining problems
Planning and carrying out investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Obtaining, evaluation, and communicating information

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
MS-PS1.B: Chemical Reactions
HS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
HS-PS1.B: Chemical Reactions

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and effect
Stability and change
Systems and system models

Performance Expectations

MS-PS1-2. Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
HS-PS1-1. Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.
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.
HS-PS1-4. Develop a model to illustrate that the release or absorption of energy from a chemical reaction system depends upon the changes in total bond energy.