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DemonstrationsChemical Reactions II 5.4

Lecture Demonstrations

Chemical Reactions II: Oxidation/Reduction

5.4 Catalytic Oxidation of Acetone with Copper (Vapor Phase Oxidation)

Subjects: Gaseous properties, oxidation, catalysts

Description: A piece of copper foil is suspended above a container containing acetone. The copper wire will continue to glow red hot suspended above the liquid.


  • several milliliters acetone‡
  • 500 mL beaker or Erlenmeyer flask
  • Coiled copper wire with copper foil piece attached at one end, with the other end wrapped around a glass stir rod or coiled copper wire
  • Optional: pre-1982 copper penny instead of copper foil
  • Burner*
  • matches

*Shared item: Located in the top drawer of the central bench opposite the shelving.
‡Acetone is located in the flammables cabinet.


  1. Pour acetone into the beaker or flask
  2. Heat the copper wire in the flame until it glows red.
  3. Suspend the wire above the liquid and turn off the lights in the room. The wire will continue to glow.


Acetone is oxidized to acetaldehyde, carbon dioxide, and water. Copper catalyzes the reaction shown below:

CH3COCH3 (g) + 3/2O2(g) → CH3CHO(g) + CO2(g) + H2O(g)

The oxidation is an exothermic process, which releases enough heat to keep the copper wire glowing.

According to Shakhashiri, the reaction also produces toxic ketene gas and methane and thus should performed in the hood or well ventilated area.


Acetone is a highly flammable liquid. Care must be taken to prevent the hot copper wire from igniting the liquid. This demonstration should be performed in the hood or well ventilated area. A fire extinguisher should be ready during the demonstration.


Liquids should be disposed of in appropriate non-halogenated organic waste containers. The copper wire can be kept for future use.


1. B.Z. Shakhashiri; Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry; Wisconsin; 1985; Volume 2; P. 216-219
2. Purdue University Department of Chemistry, Lecture Demonstration Movie sheets:
3. Eduard Job Foundation for Thermo and Matter Dynamics, Germany - Demonstrations Website:,0,0,1,0,0

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