Introduce your students to rates of reaction and kinetics with the iodine clock reaction. Mix a solution of hydrogen peroxide with potassium iodide, starch and sodium thiosulfate to see a colourless solution suddenly turn dark blue.
This is the hydrogen peroxide/ potassium iodide ‘clock’ reaction. A solution of hydrogen peroxide is mixed with one containing potassium iodide, starch and sodium thiosulfate. After a few seconds the colourless mixture suddenly turns dark blue. This is one of a number of reactions loosely called the iodine clock. It can be used as an introduction to experiments on rates / kinetics.
This demonstration can be used at secondary level as an introduction to some of the ideas about kinetics. It can be used to stimulate discussion about what factors affect the rate of reaction. It also makes a useful starting-point for a student investigation.
As described this is intended as a demonstration, best done on a large scale for the most visual impact. The demonstration itself takes less than 1 minute. For a student investigation, the quantities required would be smaller but volumes then need to be measured quite accurately with, for example, disposable plastic syringes.
Balance (1 or 2 d.p.)
Beaker (1 dm3)
Beaker (250 cm3)
Volumetric flasks (1 dm3), 2
Measuring cylinder (50 cm3)
Measuring cylinders (100 cm3), 2
Stirring rod or magnetic stirrer and follower (optional)
Deionised/distilled water, 2 dm3.
Solution A (Note 1):
Soluble starch, 0.2g
Anhydrous sodium ethanoate (sodium acetate), 4.1 g
Potassium iodide, 50g
Sodium thiosulfate-5-water, 9.4g
Solution B (Note 1):
Glacial (concentrated) ethanoic acid (CORROSIVE), 30 cm3 (Note 2)
Hydrogen peroxide solution, 20 ‘vol’ (IRRITANT), 500 cm3 (Note 2)
Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes section below for additional information.
Health & Safety and Technical notes
Wear eye protection.
Anhydrous sodium ethanoate, CH3CO2Na(s) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
Potassium iodide, KI(s) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
Sodium thiosulfate-5-water, Na2S2O3.5H2O(s) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
Ethanoic acid, CH3CO2H(l), (CORROSIVE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book. Handling glacial ethanoic acid requires care and should be done in a fume cupboard using gloves and eye protection.
Hydrogen peroxide, H2O2(aq) (IRRITANT) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book.
1 Solutions A and B should be made up before the demonstration. The solutions will keep overnight, but best results are obtained if the solutions are made up on the day. Sodium thiosulfate will react with acids to give sulfur dioxide and a precipitate of sulfur, hence the sodium thiosulfate and ethanoic acid are separated in solutions A and B respectively.
2 If you have access to 1 M dilute ethanoic acid, use 500 cm3 of this to make solution B. Mix 500 cm3 of 20 volume hydrogen peroxide with 500 cm3 of 1M ethanoic acid.
Solution A is made up as follows:
a Make a paste of 0.2 g of soluble starch with a few drops of water in a beaker. Pour onto this approximately 100 cm3 of boiling water and stir.
b Pour the resulting solution into a 1 dm3 beaker and dilute to around 800 cm3.
c Add 4.1 g of sodium ethanoate, 50 g of potassium iodide and 9.4 g of sodium thiosulfate. Stir until all the solids have dissolved and allow to cool to room temperature.
d Pour the mixture into a 1 dm3 volumetric flask and make up to 1 dm3 with water.
Solution B is made up as follows:
e In a 1 dm3 volumetric flask mix 500 cm3 of 20 volume hydrogen peroxide with 30 cm3 of glacial ethanoic acid and dilute to 1 dm3 with water. (See Technician notes about using dilute ethanoic acid as a less hazardous alternative)
Both solutions are colourless although solution A will be slightly cloudy.
f Measure 100 cm3 of solution A and 100 cm3 of solution B in separate 100 cm3 measuring cylinders.
g Pour both solutions simultaneously into a 250 cm3 beaker to mix. Ensure thorough mixing with a stirring rod or magnetic stirrer.
h After about 20 seconds at room temperature the mixture will suddenly turn dark blue.
The appearance of the blue colour may be timed – an assistant/student can start and stop the timer.
1 Hydrogen peroxide is capable of oxidising thiosulfate ions to tetrathionate ions but the reaction is too slow to affect this demonstration.
2 The ethanoic acid/sodium ethanoate is added to buffer the pH.
3 The acid will react slowly with sodium thiosulfate and produce a cloudy suspension of sulfur and release sulfur dioxide which is TOXIC - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. To avoid this the acid and sodium thiosulfate are separated in solutions A and B.
4 The CLEAPSS Guide L195 ‘Safer chemicals, safer reactions’ gives useful information about how to carry out rates experiments involving acid/thiosulfate mixtures more safely.
Visual tips: a white background will help so that the impact of the sudden and spectacular colour change is not lost. Scaling up the volumes of solution that are mixed may help in a large room.
There is no warning of when the blue colour is about to appear.
It may help understanding if the students are already familiar with the reactions of starch and iodine, and iodine and sodium thiosulfate, so it may be worth demonstrating these beforehand.
The basic reaction is:
H2O2(aq) + 2I– (aq) + 2H+ (aq) → I2(aq) + 2H2O(l)
[For more advanced discussions or investigations - this reaction is the rate determining step and is first order with respect to both H2O2 and I–.]
As soon as the iodine is formed, it reacts with the thiosulfate to form tetrathionate ions and recycles the iodide ions by the fast reaction:
2S2O32–(aq) + I2(aq) → S4O62–(aq) + 2 I– (aq)
As soon as all the thiosulfate is used up, free iodine (or, strictly, I3- ions) remains in solution and reacts with the starch to form the familiar blue-black complex.
The time for the blue colour to appear can be adjusted by varying the amount of thiosulfate in solution A so a ‘clock’ of any desired time interval can be produced.
If the demonstration is being done for entertainment, the imaginative teacher will be able to think up some suitable patter.
Health & Safety checked, 2016
This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
© Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry
Page last updated October 2015
This is a resource from the Practical Chemistry project, developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry. This collection of over 200 practical activities demonstrates a wide range of chemical concepts and processes. Each activity contains comprehensive information for teachers and technicians, including full technical notes and step-by-step procedures. Practical Chemistry activities accompany Practical Physics and Practical Biology.
The experiment is also part of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Continuing Professional Development course: Chemistry for non-specialists