The reaction between aluminium and iodine is catalysed by water. This is a spectacular demonstration as clouds of purple iodine vapour are produced.
This experiment must be done as a demonstration, in a fume cupboard. The experiment takes only 5 minutes if the iodine is ground and weighed in advance.
You should try the experiment in advance if you have not done it before.
Access to a fume cupboard (Note 1)
Each demonstration requires:
Mortar and pestle
Tin lid (or other metal container)
Heat resistant mat
Aluminium powder (fine) (HIGHLY FLAMMABLE), about 0.1 g
Iodine (HARMFUL, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT), about 0.4 g
Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes section below for additional information.
Health & Safety and Technical notes
Wear eye protection. The demonstration must be done in a fume cupboard.
Aluminium powder (fine), Al(s), (HIGHLY FLAMMABLE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
Iodine, I2(s), (HARMFUL, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
1 Check that the fume cupboard works before starting. Tape a length of tissue paper or ribbon onto the sash to see that air is drawn in.
2 A tin lid is an excellent piece of apparatus for this reaction, but any other piece of flat metal can be used. The reaction produces a lot of heat, so protecting the floor of the fume cupboard is essential.
Sometimes the mixture fails to react and must be disposed of safely. It has been reported that in some cases the reaction can occur with a delay of several hours which can be hazardous. If you are disposing of a mixture which has not yet reacted pour this into an excess of 1M sodium hydroxide in a fume cupboard and leave until it all dissolves before resuming normal disposal.
NOTE: The quantities specified in this reaction should not be exceeded unless the school has an Explosives Certificate issued by the police.
a Finely grind 0.4 g of iodine in the mortar.
b Carefully mix the iodine with 0.1 g of aluminium powder and place the mixture in a small mound on the tin lid.
c Put one or two drops of warm water onto the top of the mound using the teat pipette. There can be an induction period before the reaction starts but if there appears to be nothing happening add another one or two drops of water. A little detergent in the water assists wetting.
d When the reaction starts, clouds of purple iodine vapour are released as heat is generated. At this point the fume cupboard should be switched on, as iodine vapour is toxic. The mixture then bursts into flame, producing a white smoke together with the iodine vapour,and leaving a glowing, white residue of aluminium iodide.
It is important to try this experiment before doing it as a demonstration, as different samples of aluminium powder can react differently. The induction period for some samples can be quite long. However, this is an impressive and spectacular demonstration, proving that water can be a catalyst. It also shows that aluminium is a very reactive metal, and that its usual unreactive nature is due to the surface oxide layer.
The chemical properties of iodine are very similar to those of bromine and chlorine. However, its reactions are far less vigorous. It can also act as an oxidant for a number of elements such as phosphorus, aluminium, zinc and iron, although increased temperatures are generally required. Oxidation of finely dispersed aluminium with iodine can be initiated using drops of water. The reaction is strongly exothermic, and the excess iodine vaporises, forming a deep violet vapour.
The reaction is:
2Al(s) + 3I2(s) → Al2I6(s)
Anhydrous aluminium halides, such as the aluminium iodide produced here, react vigorously with water, sometimes violently if freshly prepared and still hot, releasing fumes of corresponding hydrogen halide. The residue should be disposed of in a fume cupboard, after allowing it to cool completely, by adding small amounts to 1 M sodium carbonate solution, allowing the reaction to subside between additions. The resulting slurry can then be disposed of with plenty of water.
Health & Safety checked January 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
There are a number of websites with information on this reaction and these can found using a Google search.
Page last updated September 2016
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