In Kayleigh’s Weather Workshop, we talk a lot about the science behind a forecast and different weather phenomena. In this experiment in Kayleigh’s Weather Workshop, Meteorologist Kayleigh Thomas is going to take a step away from “weather science” and dive into chemistry.

But don’t worry, this experiment does have a tie in to the atmosphere. Three-fourths of all air resides in the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere, called the troposphere.

When most people think of “air” they think of oxygen, because that is the gas we need to breathe. However, air is actually a mixture of different gases. Here is a breakdown of the dry (not including water vapor) composition of the atmosphere:

  • 78% Nitrogen
  • 21% Oxygen
  • 0.96% Other gases (mostly Argon)
  • 0.04% Carbon dioxide

In this workshop, we are going to focus on the gas that makes up the smallest portions of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, and create some to inflate a balloon.

What you do

Fill up the water bottle with about half a cup of vinegar.

Then, place the funnel into the balloon and put two teaspoons of baking soda in.

Once your balloon is filled with baking soda, put the opening of the balloon on top of the water bottle – do not let any of the baking soda fall into the bottle yet.

Once you are ready, hold up the balloon so that the baking soda falls into the bottle and watch a chemical reaction before your eyes!

What is happening

This is an example of a chemical reaction. A chemical reaction is like a magic trick – but with science!

This reaction in particular is an acid-base reaction because we are mixing an acid, vinegar and a base, baking soda. When you combine these two things together, they rip each other’s molecules apart, and put them back together to make something that didn’t exist at the beginning of the reaction.

While there are not any acid-base reactions like this going on in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide does play an important role in the air. Plants around the world need carbon dioxide to go through photosynthesis, and it also acts as a thermal blanket for Earth. Without carbon dioxide Earth would be inhospitably cold and plants could not survive. However, too much carbon dioxide, along with other greenhouse gases, can cause problems for Earth’s climate. 

This reaction is also endothermic, meaning it absorbs heat around it and the solution (in this case the baking soda and vinegar) is colder than its surroundings.

Come back for our next Weather Workshop on May 26. We stream to KTAB and KRBC‘s Facebook pages live at 4:30 p.m. every other Thursday!