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In this activity, learners discover that atoms and ions of different metals will change places. Learners place drops of copper sulfate solution onto a steel nail, then observe as the solution loses its blue color, and the steel nail becomes copper colored. This activity has been revised from original reaction system using silver nitrate solution and copper metal. The primary link is to new operating guide, and the original operating guide is also available. This activity is currently used in the Chemical Reactions Unit in OMSI's Chemistry Lab. Cost estimates are per 100 learners. For safety reasons, this activity should be conducted as a demonstration for younger audiences.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 11 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 100 wire nails size 1 x 16
  • small dish or lid (about 2-in. diameter)
  • 30-ml dropper bottle
  • 250-ml squeeze bottle
  • 500g CuSO4 (copper sulfate) (keep 500g on hand)
  • (2) 250 ml plastic beaker
  • 250 ml plastic bottle


  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
      • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
      • Solutions


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 9355628