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How to burn a magnesium ribbon

Updated July 20, 2017

Burning magnesium often represents the highlight of the science curriculum for schoolchildren. It is a spectacular yet simple science practical, perfect for introducing some important laboratory safety techniques. This practical work is often carried out while learning about simple chemical reactions such as the combustion of metals. Magnesium burns rapidly in air with an extremely bright white light. The product of the reaction is magnesium oxide: a white powder.

Place the Bunsen burner on the heat-proof mat. Attach it to the gas supply, and light it.

Cut a length of magnesium ribbon of about 2 inches. Use the metal tongs to hold the magnesium ribbon.

Open the air-hole of the Bunsen burner to adjust the flame to blue. Using the tongs, hold the magnesium ribbon in the hottest part of the Bunsen burner flame: at the tip of the pale blue central cone. It is necessary to hold the ribbon in the flame for several seconds to ignite it.

Remove the magnesium ribbon from the flame immediately after it catches fire, and hold it just above the heat-proof mat to burn. Do not look directly at the flame as the magnesium burns, because it can cause damage to the eyes. Partially close your eyes so you do not allow too much light in.

Observe the properties of the magnesium oxide produced. It should be a crumbly white solid.

Warning

Eye protection should be worn throughout this experiment. Take care with hot equipment. Do not look directly at the flame.

Things You'll Need

  • Bunsen burner
  • Heat-proof mat
  • Magnesium ribbon
  • Metal tongs
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About the Author

Veronica Mitchell has been a freelancer since 2010, writing mainly in biomedical and health fields, but also covering lifestyle and parenting topics. She has a Master of Arts in veterinary and medical sciences from Cambridge University and is a qualified high-school science teacher.