The right chemistry for Clear Creek students

Science students experiment to meet the airbag challenge

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/13/21

Chemistry students at Clear Creek High School always are up for a challenge. The latest was to make a chemical reaction similar to the reaction that happens in a vehicle airbag. Not a huge reaction, …

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The right chemistry for Clear Creek students

Science students experiment to meet the airbag challenge

Posted

Chemistry students at Clear Creek High School always are up for a challenge.

The latest was to make a chemical reaction similar to the reaction that happens in a vehicle airbag. Not a huge reaction, mind you, but a controlled inflation of a sandwich bag.

Teacher Jill Stansbury said she prefers using inquiry-based learning, which precipitated the airbag challenge, and in the process, students learned hands-on about chemical reactions, gases and more.

Vehicle airbags actually are filled with toxic chemicals, and the challenge was to design an airbag using nontoxic chemicals. Students used a reaction between sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid — more commonly known as baking soda and vinegar — to inflate a bag to 5 kilopascals.

After trial and error, and keeping track of the results, students performed the experiment, trying to get as close to the 5 kilopascals above atmospheric pressure as possible in three minutes.

“Both groups that tested from the class were successful,” Stansbury said. “They met the constraints, (though) both overshot the expected pressure in the bag by a bit.”

She planned to follow up with students about the excess reactants they used and how that would affect a business that made airbags similar to a cost-benefit analysis.

The experiment also taught perseverance, Stansbury said, as students kept trying for the exact mixture to create the reaction.

Students were diligently at work before the final test, trying to get everything to work the way it was supposed to.

Senior Annie Galke and junior Kaleigh Kittelberger had fun tweaking the ratio of baking soda to vinegar.

“(The experiment) shows us how we can apply something in class to reality,” Kittelberger said.

“It shows how pressure works,” Galke added.

Students worked on how to remove air leaks using a lot of duct tape, so the pressure in the bag would increase as part of the chemical reaction.

“I think this is going to work pretty well,” senior James Rogers said.

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