Finding the Carbon in Sugar

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In this activity about combustion and energy, learners observe a burning candle in a sealed jar and the burning of white sugar. The first part of the activity (candle burning) should be conducted as a demonstration. The second part may be conducted by learners working in groups of 2-4 or as a demonstration. This activity guide includes background information, questions for learners to think about, and bilingual (English/Spanish) handouts.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan

English, Spanish

Materials List (per group of students)

  • Clear beaker, 1,000-mL (or tempered glass bowl)
  • Matches
  • Tea candles
  • Wet paper towels
  • 1/2 tsp of white sugar
  • Small piece of aluminum foil (15 cm square)
  • Copies of "Sugar as Fuel" student sheet


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Atmosphere
      • Biosphere
  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
    • Ecology
      • Energy Flow and Chemical Cycles
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
    • Energy
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
      • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Elements and Periodic Table
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Food and Cooking


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Moreno, Nancy P. ; Tharp, Barbara Z. ; Dresden, Judith


  • All rights reserved, Baylor College of Medicine, 2011

Funding Sources:

  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), R25 ES06932
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), R25 ES010698