Carbon chemistry

Classroom resources featuring activities from our Carbon Chemistry professional development course for teachers

This collection is most valuable to those who have attended this course and wish to put into practice with their students some of the ideas and activities presented as part of that event. Please note that this list is not exhaustive; not all trainer activities have a corresponding classroom resource. In some circumstances there is variation between the training resource and classroom resource.

Equipment set up in a school laboratory for an experiment simulating the fractional distillation of crude oil, with a side-arm test tube, a thermometer and a delivery tube

The fractional distillation of crude oil

In association with

Try this class practical or demonstration to simulate the industrial fractional distillation of crude oil. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A photograph showing the outside of an industrial furnace and heat exchanger, used in the cracking of hydrocarbons

Cracking hydrocarbons in liquid paraffin with a catalyst

In association with

Model the industrial process of cracking larger hydrocarbons to produce smaller alkanes in this demonstration or class practical. Includes kit list and safety instructions.


Cracking hydrocarbons on a microscale

In association with

A microscale experiment, cracking the hydrocarbons in paraffin to form shorter alkanes and alkenes.


Hydrocarbons factpack

In association with

An introduction to hydrocarbons. Learn how unreactive alkanes can be made into reactive alkenes.


Cracking Chemistry!

Work your way through these fun chemistry practicals developed by National Science & Engineering Week.

Nylon thread

Making nylon: the ‘nylon rope trick’

Perform this ‘trick’ with a solution of decanedioyl dichloride in cyclohexane floated on an aqueous solution of 1,6-diaminohexane. As nylon forms at the interface, it can be pulled out as fast as it is produced forming a long thread: the ‘nylon rope’.

A photograph showing two people in lab coats; the person in focus is carefully smelling the contents of a test tube

Making esters from alcohols and acids

In association with

Investigate the reactions between a range of alcohols and acids by producing a variety of esters in this class experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.


A microscale oxidation of alcohols

In association with

In this experiment you will be testing various alcohols to see whether they can be oxidised by a solution of acidified potassium dichromate.

A rack of red wind bottles

The properties of alcohols

In association with

Ethanol and propan-1-ol are tested for pH, reaction with sodium, combustion and oxidation with acidified dichromate(VI) solution. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

A photograph of four bottles containing different varieties of vinegar, including apple cider, black, white and malt vinegar

The acidic reactions of ethanoic acid

In association with

Explore the properties of ethanoic acid as a weak organic acid in this class experiment. Includes kit list and safety instructions.


Experiments with hydrogels – hair gel and disposable nappies

In association with

In these activities students investigate hydrogels – polymeric smart materials. They are found in many products, including disposable nappies and hair gel. The practical is fun to do and the results dramatic.


Polymer puzzles

This activity is designed to develop the students’ higher order thinking – particularly critical thinking skills – in the context of problem solving. It should help students to recall the facts about some common polymers.

Candle in jar

Identifying the products of combustion (simple set-up)

Capture and test the products of combustion of hydrocarbons


Unsaturation in fats and oils

In association with

Food labels and advertisements often refer to unsaturated fats and oils. A comparison of the amounts of unsaturated fats and oils present in different foodstuffs can be made by titrating solutions of samples with aqueous bromine (bromine water), which reacts with the carbon - carbon double bonds present in such fats and oils.


Experiments with hydrogels – plant water storage crystals

In association with

In this activity students investigate plant water storage crystals, a product that contains hydrogels – polymeric smart materials. The practical work is fun, and the results easy to see.


Cross-linking polymers – alginate worms

Sodium alginate is a polymer which can be extracted from brown seaweed and kelps. It is one of the structural polymers that help to build the cell walls of these plants. It has some unusual properties and a wide variety of uses.

Potassium dichromate (VI) crystals

The 'breathalyser' reaction

In association with

Recreate an early ‘breathalyser’ test by passing ethanol vapour through a U-tube packed with potassium dichromate crystals and moistened with dilute sulfuric acid to and watch as it changes from orange of chromium(VI) through brown to green of chromium(III).

A photograph of students sitting around a table and wearing protective gloves while making slime in plastic pots

PVA polymer slime

In association with

In this fun class experiment student will make slime by adding borax solution to PVA. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Large plastic water bottle required for whoosh bottle demonstration.

The ‘whoosh’ bottle demonstration

In association with

This exciting demonstration is a combustion reaction where a mixture of alcohol and air in a large bottle is ignited. Includes kit list and safety instructions.

Old five pound note

Money to burn

In association with

Surprise your students by soaking a piece of paper (or an old £5 or £10 note) in a mixture of ethanol and water and igniting it. Watch as the ethanol burns… but the paper does not.

Graphene sheet

Graphene: future applications

A video that explores different types of carbon, looking in particular at graphene and its uses. Also, learn how to make your own solar cell,  answer questions from the allotropes of carbon gridlock game, and read an anecdote about the discovery of buckminsterfullerene.


Faces of Chemistry – Crop protection

Discover how crop protection products from Syngenta help to increase yield and produce healthier crops.


Faces of Chemistry – Biosensors

Find out how scientists at the material science laboratory, QMUL, develop biosensors to enhance sport performance.


Faces of Chemistry – Hair colourant

Learn about the chemistry of hair dyes from Procter and Gamble scientists.

Catalytic converter

Faces of Chemistry – Catalysts

Find out from scientists at Johnson Matthey how catalytic converters reduce harmful emissions produced by vehicles.


Faces of Chemistry – Women in Chemistry

Follow the adventures of eight leading women in chemistry and celebrate the common element that catalysed their journeys: a life-changing, chance-taking, thrill-seeking love of science.


Faces of Chemistry – Sun lotion

In association with

Learn from scientists at Croda about how the chemistry behind sun lotions helps protect our skin from damaging ultraviolet radiation.


Faces of Chemistry – Packaging gases

Discover how scientists from BOC remove gases from the air and use them in food packaging and processing.

Smart Forvision car

Faces of Chemistry – Organic solar cells

Explore the chemistry of organic photovoltaics (organic solar cells) as a scientist from BASF explains the technology used in the Smart Forvision car.