Yellow background with scientific shapes.

Chemical reactions to try at home

Experiment alongside Ellie from the Crick's education team to create your own chemical reaction and make an invisible fire extinguisher as part of our Family Zone.


What you'll need

  • Bicarbonate of soda

  • A powder that looks similar to bicarbonate of soda

    E.g. flour or icing sugar

  • Vinegar

  • A plastic drinks bottle

    Approx. 500ml

  • A balloon or plastic bag

    If using a plastic bag, make sure it doesn't have any holes in it.

  • A hair tie

    If you're using the plastic bag

  • Spoon

  • instructions


  • Pour vinegar into the plastic drinks bottle

    Pour until it is around 2-3cm full.

  • Make a funnel

    Make a funnel with a piece of paper and use it to put two spoons of bicarbonate of soda into the balloon/ plastic bag.

  • Fasten the balloon or bag

    Fasten the neck of the balloon around the rim of the drinks bottle, or the plastic bag using the hair tie, careful to not let any of the powder fall into the vinegar yet.

  • Upend the balloon or plastic bag

    Upend the balloon or plastic bag quickly to let all of the powder fall into the vinegar, whilst keeping it sealed around the rim of the bottle.

  • Watch

    Watch the balloon start to inflate!

  • Try other ingredients

    Try this experiment again with another powder which look similar to bicarbonate of soda e.g. flour or icing sugar. Does the balloon still inflate?

  • Science


    The science

    • Chemical reactions happen when chemicals, (e.g. the acid ‘vinegar’ and the base ‘sodium bicarbonate’) are changed into something new, in this case, a gas – carbon dioxide, which blows up the balloon.
    • When you substitute the sodium bicarbonate with something that looks similar, icing sugar, the reaction doesn’t work anymore because the icing sugar doesn’t have the same chemical properties as the sodium bicarbonate.


      Experiments at the Crick's public family fun day.

      real science

      real science

      Real life science at the Crick

      Acids can also be found in living things. For example, chemical reactions involving amino acids are needed for growth, including of the bacteria that cause disease.

      Scientists at the Crick are investigating how the bacterium that causes the disease tuberculosis (TB) can be killed by antibiotics. Scientists have found that tuberculosis can be treated by giving people a drug that looks a lot like the amino acid the bacteria need to grow.

      But just like in our experiment, even though it looks similar, this time the chemical reaction doesn’t work so the bacteria can’t grow properly. By understanding this process, scientists can design better drugs to treat TB. 


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