Demonstrating Energy Levels of Atoms
Posted September 29, 2010on:
I came up with this in my early years of teaching (2002) and I forgot about it until tonight. At the time, I was borrowing a friend’s physics classroom to do a graduate assignment on reading. I prepared an article on how fireworks produce light and color. The concept I was trying to get across was how electrons in the shell jump to a higher energy level, then give off light as they drop down to a ground state.
I chose as a prop a Zippo lighter without fuel, but in the little basket on top I placed some magician’s flash cotton. This stuff is great, you can purchase it at a local magic shop. It is stored wet so that it doesn’t ignite, you take out only as much as you think you will need ahead of time and let it air dry.
I used one of the students in the class, he was the electron. The idea was that as he got heated up by the thermal energy, he got elevated into an excited state. He then had to stand on one of the desk chairs to show the elevated state. Now the problem was that he needed to get down, but he couldn’t without releasing some energy. To do that, he had to flick the Zippo and step down. As he flicked the Zippo, there was an impressive flash of light – the photon being release from the electron in a high state.
I know this worked, I heard a bunch of involuntary utterances of “I get it” and “ooh.” I think that was the day I knew I belonged in the classroom.
Fire – good.