Trading Places: Redox Reactions

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Visitors add drops of copper sulfate solution onto a steel nail. They observe the nail change color from silver to brown as the copper plates onto the nail. They observe the growing crystals through a magnifying glass. Visitors learn that liquids may be full of metal ions that are invisible. They learn that this particular solution contains copper ions that react with the solid iron. This kind of chemical change, where electrons move between atoms or molecules, is called an oxidation/reduction or "redox" reaction. These reactions are very important in industry.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 6 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

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



  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Chemical Engineering
    • Technology
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
      • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
      • Solutions
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Body
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation