Microscale chemistry

Tips, ideas and practical experiments to help you make the most of microscale chemistry in your classroom

Getting started

Two electrodes create bubbles in a drop of blue liquid

The fast guide to microscale practical work

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Every chemistry teacher’s must-have guide to this no-fuss method for practical work

A close-up photograph of a laboratory well-plate with 24 wells, containing an orange-yellow solution

Apparatus and techniques for microscale chemistry

Find out what apparatus you need for common microscale experiments, learn about key techniques and discover how to prepare solutions of different elements.

Why microscale?

Two bottle tops in a bunsen burner flame

Maximise learning with microscale

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Find out why and how a small-scale approach to practical work reaps big rewards in your classroom

Microscale chemistry

Making practical work more effective

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Microscale chemistry and well-ordered teaching sequences reduce cognitive overload

A photo of drip bottles around a grid of different coloured drops of liquid

Why I love microscale

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Advocating a practical approach to practical work in the classroom

Why microscale?

More from Education in Chemistry

A combination lock dissolves into pixels

Escape the classroom: and try microscale chemistry

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Escape room puzzles based on simple microscale reactions for students

More from Education in Chemistry

A combination lock dissolves into pixels

Escape the classroom: and try microscale chemistry

By

Escape room puzzles based on simple microscale reactions for students

Microscale chemistry practicals

Exhibition Chemistry demonstrations

Engage and inspire your students with these exciting demonstrations, including videos, practical guidance and teaching notes

Two petri dishes wired with crocodile clips and paperclips and attached with paper which is changing colour under the charge

The movement of ions: bringing electrolysis to life

Demonstrate the movement of positive and negative ions with a simpler, safer version of this classic demo

A hand igniting soap bubbles in a petri dish with a lit wooden split

Dynamite soap: The combustion of stoichiometric hydrogen–oxygen mixtures

Add this quick demo to the end of a lesson on squeaky pops to show the dramatic impact of mixing chemicals in the correct proportions

Practical videos

Video resources featuring microscale experiments, designed to support flipped learning and live practical work

Microscale halogen displacement experiment with drops being added to a spotting tile

Displacement reactions – practical videos | 14–16 students

Video and resources investigating the displacement reactions between the halogens chlorine, bromine and iodine and their respective halides in microscale

Row of test tubes, each labelled with a different metal ion, containing wooden splints

Identifying ions – practical videos | 14–16 students

Video resource showing how to identify ions in various solutions. Flame tests, sodium hydroxide test (microscale) and tests for negative ions: carbonate, sulfate and halide ions

Thermometer stuck through hole in lid of polystyrene cup

Reactivity of metals | practical videos | 14–16 years

Video with supporting resources featuring three experiments investigating the relative reactivity of metals, including metal displacement reactions in microscale

A Petri dish set up for a microscale electrolysis experiment using samples of metal and a power supply

Electrochemical cells | practical videos | 16–18 students

Video and supporting resources to support electrochemistry practical work, including two microscale experiments, animation and cell diagrams

More microscale experiments and demonstrations

A yellow precipitate forming in a clear liquid against a black background

Precipitation reactions of lead nitrate

Compare the colours of various lead compounds to identify which would be good pigments in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

sulfur lake and stone sulfur

Some reactions of sulfur dioxide

Observe the reactions of sulfur dioxide with potassium manganate (IV), iodide/iodate mixture and indicator solution. Includes kit list and safety instructions. 

A close-up photograph of spiral-shaped brass turnings

The determination of copper in brass

Try this microscale class practical to investigate how much copper there is in brass using nitric acid. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A plastic model of a molecule of hydrogen sulfide, with a yellow sulfur atom and two white hydrogen atoms

Microscale reactions of hydrogen sulfide

Observe the reactions of hydrogen sulfide with lead nitrate, silver nitrate and potassium manganate(VII) in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A 3D illustration of a molecule of ammonia, with a nitrogen atom in blue and three hydrogen atoms in white

Microscale reactions of ammonia

Try this practical to explore the reactions of ammonia with indicator solution, copper(II) sulfate solution and Nessler’s reagent. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Tap water image

Measuring density

By measuring the relative mass of seawater and tap water, students will be able to discover the density of these liquids. Includes kit list and safety instructions. 

Sodium thiosulfate crystals

The chemistry of thiosulfate ions

Sodium thiosulfate has several interesting reactions with a variety of chemicals. This experiment will let students explore and record these reactions. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Image

Some reactions of nitrogen dioxide

Using a range of chemicals and solutions, students can create an experiment that will explore some of the reactions of nitrogen dioxide. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A scientist wearing disposable gloves holds indicator paper over a slice of lemon and a bar of soap

Testing acids and bases on a microscale

Test various substances with indicator solution and look for colour changes in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A hand pressing the zero or tare button on a laboratory balance

Mass changes in chemical reactions

Perform two chemical reactions to see whether any mass changes occur in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Bottle of nitric acid

The oxidation of cyclohexanol by nitric acid

Perform a ring opening oxidation using nitric acid to produce the dicarboxylic acid, 1,6-hexanedioic acid (adipic acid) – and then use the solid crystals that form to determine a melting point. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A sample of elemental chromium on black background

Exploring the chemistry of chromium, molybdenum and tungsten

Discover how transition elements differ in aspects of colour, precipitate formation, changes in oxidation state and equilibria. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Test tubes containing yellow, red and orange substances formed by the combination of two solutions

Brady’s test for aldehydes and ketones

Identify aldehydes and ketones using Brady’s reagent (2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine) in this microscale experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Petri dishes

The chemical properties of phenol

Observe and interpret some of the chemical reactions of hydroxybenzene (phenol), by adding five different substances to a Petri dish, and noting down findings. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A plastic model of a molecule of ethyne, with two carbon atoms in black and two hydrogen atoms in white

Preparing and testing ethyne (acetylene)

Generate ethyne gas with calcium carbide and test its properties in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A brown precipitate at the bottom of a glass beaker labelled with the chemical formula for iron(II) hydroxide

Observing chemical changes

Try this microscale practical to explore the chemical changes in displacement, redox and precipitation reactions. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

An illustration with red and blue circles representing particles of two gases mixing

Diffusion of gases on a microscale

Try this class practical to explore the diffusion of gases and how relative molecular mass affects rate of diffusion. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

H2O2 image

Redox chemistry with dichromate ions

Observe the colour changes that occur with the reduction of dichromate ions by hydrogen peroxide. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A pile of scrap iron with brown rust visible

Oxidation states of iron

Compare the two main oxidation states of iron and consider explanations for differences in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A close-up photograph of shiny copper shavings

Microscale reactions of metals with acids

Try this class practical to explore reactivity series with various metals as they react with acids on a microscale. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A photograph showing potassium permanganate in a glass beaker

Unsaturation test with potassium manganate(VII)

Use a solution of potassium manganate to test for unsaturation in organic compounds in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

table of elements image

Properties of group 2 elements

Add drops of various anion solutions to drops of group 2 element cations, and note down the changes that occur when the substances interact. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A close-up photograph of a glass test tube containing a light brown liquid

Testing for unsaturation with bromine on a microscale

Try this class experiment to prepare elemental bromine and use it to test for unsaturation in organic compounds. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Blue dye in conical flask

Oxygen and methylene blue

Reacting hydrogen peroxide, and potassium manganate together will produce detectable oxygen so by using methylene blue solution, and a gas generating apparatus students can test for the presence of oxygen in this practical. Includes kit list and safety instruction.

A close-up photograph of a pile of white aspirin pills on a blue paper background

Synthesis of aspirin on a microscale

Use this class practical to produce aspirin in a microscale esterification reaction using phosphoric acid as a catalyst. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A thermometer strip with Celsius and Fahrenheit scales, currently indicating a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius

Energy changes in neutralisation

Study energy changes in two chemical reactions using thermometer strips to measure temperature in this experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Petri dish image

Formation of TCP (2,4,6-trichlorohydroxybenzene)

Delve into preparing TCP by reacting hydroxybenzene (phenol) with chlorine gas, and create this distinctive smelling compound.

Three brown glass vials labelled as containing silver nitrate on a white-grey laboratory bench

Investigating redox reactions on a microscale

Carry out two redox reactions and observe and interpret the results in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Water, and fabric, dyed indigo. With hands wringing out water

The microscale synthesis of indigo dye

Carry out a microscale organic synthesis, the result of which will leave students with indigo dye. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Image

Finding out how much salt there is in seawater

Use the microscale titration apparatus to titrate silver nitrate solution against sea water

Oil spill image

The treatment of oil spills

Tackle the real-life environment problem of oil spills in your classroom, by creating and then treating a micro version of an oil event. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

CO2 image

Some reactions of carbon dioxide

Create carbon dioxide from marble chips and acid, then test for its reaction with barium hydroxide by observing the carbonate precipitate. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Several fabrics that have been dyed different colours

The microscale synthesis of azo dyes

Synthesise an azo dye, and use it to change the colour of cotton, with this class experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A section of the Periodic Table with the tiles for elements in Group 1 and 2 visible in red and orange respectively

Sulfate and carbonate solubility of Groups 1 and 2

Try this microscale practical to explore the properties of elements in Groups 1 and 2 as they form various precipitates. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Image

Measuring an equilibrium constant on a microscale

Use your microscale titration apparatus to determine the equilibrium constant for the reaction between silver(I) and iron(II) ions

Image

Exploring the properties of the carvones

Test the smell of each enantiomer of carvone and detect the differences

Orange vitamin c image

Measuring the amount of vitamin C in fruit drinks

Explore ascorbic acid in fruit drinks through titration in this experiment, with specimen results and calculations, stock solutions, and detailed notes included. 

A strip of magnesium becomes coated with dark brown copper as it reacts with blue copper sulfate solution

Displacement reactions of metals on a microscale

Examine the reactions between various metals and metal salt solutions in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Four glass containers with bromothymol blue indicator solution displaying different colours, including red, yellow, green and blue

Electrolysis using a microscale Hoffman apparatus

Investigate the electrolysis of sodium sulfate solution using a microscale Hoffman apparatus in this class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

shutterstock_2046585386

The chemistry of silver

Discover the properties of silver compounds with redox reactions, complex formation and colour/state changes. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A section of the Periodic Table with the tiles for various transition metals

Transition elements and complex compounds

Try this microscale practical investigating the transition elements, complex formation and change in oxidation state. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Macro photograph of white tablets marked with the word aspirin

Analysis of aspirin tablets on a microscale

Try this microscale class practical to analyse aspirin tablets and find out how much salicylic acid is present. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Thermometer image

The temperature changes induced by evaporation

Explore the rate of evaporation for a trio of liquids, using just a temperature strip, and our worksheet. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Lemons image

Properties of stereoisomers

By soaking cotton wool in two limonene enantiomers, and adding a stereoisomer, students can explore the differences between each chemical and discuss how they each might react in different conditions. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A yellow conductivity meter submerged in a measuring jug of clear liquid

Using a microscale conductivity meter

Explore electrical conductivity with this practical that allows students to test different materials for how well a current will pass through them. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A full-frame photograph of small copper granules

Microscale extraction of copper

In association with

Try this practical to reduce copper(II) oxide to copper using hydrogen, revealing their positions in the reactivity series. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

potion labels

Practical potions microscale | 11–14 years

Observe chemical changes in this microscale experiment with a spooky twist.

A photo of small bottles and spot plates

Microscale technicians in trouble! investigation

Some solutions have been mixed up – help the technicians work out which is which

More microscale experiments and demonstrations

  • A yellow precipitate forming in a clear liquid against a black background

    Precipitation reactions of lead nitrate

    Compare the colours of various lead compounds to identify which would be good pigments in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • sulfur lake and stone sulfur

    Some reactions of sulfur dioxide

    Observe the reactions of sulfur dioxide with potassium manganate (IV), iodide/iodate mixture and indicator solution. Includes kit list and safety instructions. 

  • A close-up photograph of spiral-shaped brass turnings

    The determination of copper in brass

    Try this microscale class practical to investigate how much copper there is in brass using nitric acid. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A plastic model of a molecule of hydrogen sulfide, with a yellow sulfur atom and two white hydrogen atoms

    Microscale reactions of hydrogen sulfide

    Observe the reactions of hydrogen sulfide with lead nitrate, silver nitrate and potassium manganate(VII) in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A 3D illustration of a molecule of ammonia, with a nitrogen atom in blue and three hydrogen atoms in white

    Microscale reactions of ammonia

    Try this practical to explore the reactions of ammonia with indicator solution, copper(II) sulfate solution and Nessler’s reagent. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Tap water image

    Measuring density

    By measuring the relative mass of seawater and tap water, students will be able to discover the density of these liquids. Includes kit list and safety instructions. 

  • Sodium thiosulfate crystals

    The chemistry of thiosulfate ions

    Sodium thiosulfate has several interesting reactions with a variety of chemicals. This experiment will let students explore and record these reactions. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Image

    Some reactions of nitrogen dioxide

    Using a range of chemicals and solutions, students can create an experiment that will explore some of the reactions of nitrogen dioxide. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A scientist wearing disposable gloves holds indicator paper over a slice of lemon and a bar of soap

    Testing acids and bases on a microscale

    Test various substances with indicator solution and look for colour changes in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A hand pressing the zero or tare button on a laboratory balance

    Mass changes in chemical reactions

    Perform two chemical reactions to see whether any mass changes occur in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Bottle of nitric acid

    The oxidation of cyclohexanol by nitric acid

    Perform a ring opening oxidation using nitric acid to produce the dicarboxylic acid, 1,6-hexanedioic acid (adipic acid) – and then use the solid crystals that form to determine a melting point. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A sample of elemental chromium on black background

    Exploring the chemistry of chromium, molybdenum and tungsten

    Discover how transition elements differ in aspects of colour, precipitate formation, changes in oxidation state and equilibria. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Test tubes containing yellow, red and orange substances formed by the combination of two solutions

    Brady’s test for aldehydes and ketones

    Identify aldehydes and ketones using Brady’s reagent (2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine) in this microscale experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Petri dishes

    The chemical properties of phenol

    Observe and interpret some of the chemical reactions of hydroxybenzene (phenol), by adding five different substances to a Petri dish, and noting down findings. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A plastic model of a molecule of ethyne, with two carbon atoms in black and two hydrogen atoms in white

    Preparing and testing ethyne (acetylene)

    Generate ethyne gas with calcium carbide and test its properties in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A brown precipitate at the bottom of a glass beaker labelled with the chemical formula for iron(II) hydroxide

    Observing chemical changes

    Try this microscale practical to explore the chemical changes in displacement, redox and precipitation reactions. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • An illustration with red and blue circles representing particles of two gases mixing

    Diffusion of gases on a microscale

    Try this class practical to explore the diffusion of gases and how relative molecular mass affects rate of diffusion. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • H2O2 image

    Redox chemistry with dichromate ions

    Observe the colour changes that occur with the reduction of dichromate ions by hydrogen peroxide. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A pile of scrap iron with brown rust visible

    Oxidation states of iron

    Compare the two main oxidation states of iron and consider explanations for differences in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A close-up photograph of shiny copper shavings

    Microscale reactions of metals with acids

    Try this class practical to explore reactivity series with various metals as they react with acids on a microscale. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A photograph showing potassium permanganate in a glass beaker

    Unsaturation test with potassium manganate(VII)

    Use a solution of potassium manganate to test for unsaturation in organic compounds in this microscale practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • table of elements image

    Properties of group 2 elements

    Add drops of various anion solutions to drops of group 2 element cations, and note down the changes that occur when the substances interact. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A close-up photograph of a glass test tube containing a light brown liquid

    Testing for unsaturation with bromine on a microscale

    Try this class experiment to prepare elemental bromine and use it to test for unsaturation in organic compounds. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Blue dye in conical flask

    Oxygen and methylene blue

    Reacting hydrogen peroxide, and potassium manganate together will produce detectable oxygen so by using methylene blue solution, and a gas generating apparatus students can test for the presence of oxygen in this practical. Includes kit list and safety instruction.

  • A close-up photograph of a pile of white aspirin pills on a blue paper background

    Synthesis of aspirin on a microscale

    Use this class practical to produce aspirin in a microscale esterification reaction using phosphoric acid as a catalyst. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A thermometer strip with Celsius and Fahrenheit scales, currently indicating a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius

    Energy changes in neutralisation

    Study energy changes in two chemical reactions using thermometer strips to measure temperature in this experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Petri dish image

    Formation of TCP (2,4,6-trichlorohydroxybenzene)

    Delve into preparing TCP by reacting hydroxybenzene (phenol) with chlorine gas, and create this distinctive smelling compound.

  • Three brown glass vials labelled as containing silver nitrate on a white-grey laboratory bench

    Investigating redox reactions on a microscale

    Carry out two redox reactions and observe and interpret the results in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Water, and fabric, dyed indigo. With hands wringing out water

    The microscale synthesis of indigo dye

    Carry out a microscale organic synthesis, the result of which will leave students with indigo dye. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Image

    Finding out how much salt there is in seawater

    Use the microscale titration apparatus to titrate silver nitrate solution against sea water

  • Oil spill image

    The treatment of oil spills

    Tackle the real-life environment problem of oil spills in your classroom, by creating and then treating a micro version of an oil event. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • CO2 image

    Some reactions of carbon dioxide

    Create carbon dioxide from marble chips and acid, then test for its reaction with barium hydroxide by observing the carbonate precipitate. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Several fabrics that have been dyed different colours

    The microscale synthesis of azo dyes

    Synthesise an azo dye, and use it to change the colour of cotton, with this class experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A section of the Periodic Table with the tiles for elements in Group 1 and 2 visible in red and orange respectively

    Sulfate and carbonate solubility of Groups 1 and 2

    Try this microscale practical to explore the properties of elements in Groups 1 and 2 as they form various precipitates. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Image

    Measuring an equilibrium constant on a microscale

    Use your microscale titration apparatus to determine the equilibrium constant for the reaction between silver(I) and iron(II) ions

  • Image

    Exploring the properties of the carvones

    Test the smell of each enantiomer of carvone and detect the differences

  • Orange vitamin c image

    Measuring the amount of vitamin C in fruit drinks

    Explore ascorbic acid in fruit drinks through titration in this experiment, with specimen results and calculations, stock solutions, and detailed notes included. 

  • A strip of magnesium becomes coated with dark brown copper as it reacts with blue copper sulfate solution

    Displacement reactions of metals on a microscale

    Examine the reactions between various metals and metal salt solutions in this microscale class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Four glass containers with bromothymol blue indicator solution displaying different colours, including red, yellow, green and blue

    Electrolysis using a microscale Hoffman apparatus

    Investigate the electrolysis of sodium sulfate solution using a microscale Hoffman apparatus in this class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • shutterstock_2046585386

    The chemistry of silver

    Discover the properties of silver compounds with redox reactions, complex formation and colour/state changes. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A section of the Periodic Table with the tiles for various transition metals

    Transition elements and complex compounds

    Try this microscale practical investigating the transition elements, complex formation and change in oxidation state. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Macro photograph of white tablets marked with the word aspirin

    Analysis of aspirin tablets on a microscale

    Try this microscale class practical to analyse aspirin tablets and find out how much salicylic acid is present. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Thermometer image

    The temperature changes induced by evaporation

    Explore the rate of evaporation for a trio of liquids, using just a temperature strip, and our worksheet. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • Lemons image

    Properties of stereoisomers

    By soaking cotton wool in two limonene enantiomers, and adding a stereoisomer, students can explore the differences between each chemical and discuss how they each might react in different conditions. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A yellow conductivity meter submerged in a measuring jug of clear liquid

    Using a microscale conductivity meter

    Explore electrical conductivity with this practical that allows students to test different materials for how well a current will pass through them. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • A full-frame photograph of small copper granules

    Microscale extraction of copper

    In association with

    Try this practical to reduce copper(II) oxide to copper using hydrogen, revealing their positions in the reactivity series. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

  • potion labels

    Practical potions microscale | 11–14 years

    Observe chemical changes in this microscale experiment with a spooky twist.

  • A photo of small bottles and spot plates

    Microscale technicians in trouble! investigation

    Some solutions have been mixed up – help the technicians work out which is which

About this collection

A number of the practicals and demonstrations featured on this page are based on experiments previously published in Microscale chemistry: experiments in miniature.

To read the book, you can buy a copy from our online bookshop where Royal Society of Chemistry members receive a 35% discount.