As a wrap-up to last year’s chemistry studies, I’d hoped to do something sort-of but not really explosive. Carbon Snakes seemed to fit the bill. Mix sugar and concentrated sulfuric acid and Whoosh! A tall black column of pure carbon rises out of the beaker. (YouTube video here.) Alas, the sufuric acid we had on hand (intended for lowering the pH in aquariums) was too dilute to do anything. (A chemist friend has since discovered some concentrated sulfuric acid in her husband’s home lab, so next time we’re over her house maybe we can give that one another try.)
I next found this neat little Carbon Snake experiment on About.com. All it required was baking soda and sugar. But although we did get a reaction, it was more like a bunch of little black worms then a black snake.
Well, I have finally found the mother of all black snake demonstrations. The best part? It’s edible! (And simple enough for kids to do themselves!)
Follow the link to the article How to Make Cake in a Mug, which I’ve just added to Wired.com’s How-to Wiki, for directions and more photos. You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now — I even simplified the original recipe by substituting hot chocolate mix instead of cocoa powder, sugar and milk.
The one thing I’d be interested to find out is how it works. Microwaves are not usually the best choice for baking. As for why it rises so neatly out of the mug, I’m guessing it’s pushed out by the steam that’s generated as the ingredients cook from the inside out, as they do in microwave ovens.