How to Perform Electrolysis at Home
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How to Perform Electrolysis at Home

This article details, with specific steps and a list of materials, a method by which you can perform electrolysis in your own home. The method is cheap, safe, and quick. The parts needed are available from department stores and electronic stores, and the process can be performed by young adolescents and even children.

Electrolysis is the use of electricity to drive a chemical reaction. An electrical current is passed through a medium, known as an electrolyte, using two conductive surfaces called electrodes. The positively charged electrode of a discharging battery is called the cathode, while the negatively charged electrode is called the anode. Electrolysis is a simple and informative DIY science project for primary and middle school students. Primary school students may need adult supervision. You can perform electrolysis at home using the following:

  • A 9-volt battery
  • Two lengths of copper magnet wire
  • A glass of water to serve as the electrolyte
  • Two screwdrivers to serve as electrodes
  • Table salt
  • Electrical tape

The process that you will be performing is called electrolysis of water, which is the decomposition of water into hydrogen and oxygen by means of an electrical current. The chemistry behind it is simple. Water has the chemical formula H2O, or two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen. As electricity is run through the water, the hydrogen atoms separate from the oxygen. The results are hydrogen gas around the cathode, and oxygen around the anode.

To perform electrolysis, use the following steps.

  1. Cut two twelve inch lengths of copper magnet wire from the roll.
  2. Attach one length to each lead of the 9-volt battery using electrical tape.
  3. Wrap 6 inches of copper magnet wire around the metal part of each electrode. Secure with electrical tape.
  4. Fill a glass with water.
  5. Add table salt (at least 2 teaspoons) to the water and stir until thoroughly dissolved.
  6. Place the screwdrivers in the water.
  7. Watch the reaction take place.

If you performed steps 1-7 correctly, you will see bubbles forming around each electrode. The bubbles forming around the cathode are oxygen bubbles, while the bubbles forming around the anode are hydrogen bubbles. If you are using tap water, there will also be chlorine gas. Keep in mind that none of these gasses are formed in dangerous amounts. The amounts of hydrogen formed are not explosive, and the amounts of chlorine formed are not toxic. This is why we use a 9-volt battery: the amount of electricity created by such a battery does not drive a powerful enough reaction to form dangerous amounts of the gasses involved. Although the hydrogen formed is not explosive, you can still test the flammable properties of hydrogen with a lit match. Simply light a match and hold it over the top of the anode. You may hear a light popping sound, and you may see the match stutter. This is due to microscopic bubbles of hydrogen igniting when they come into contact with the flame.

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Comments (1)
Ranked #5 in Chemistry

If carried to extremes (and with higher voltages required) you ultimately end up with dueterium ('heavy hydrogen', -a tracer component used in nuclear fusion reactors and to slow down neutrons in moderated fission reactors.