What's in a Penny?

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In this chemistry activity, learners use chemical reactions to observe the composition of an alloy. Learners will calculate and record the amount (mass and percentage) of copper and zinc in a penny minted after 1982. Then learners will heat the penny to create a brass alloy. Use this activity to introduce learners to chemical reactions, alloys, and oxidation-reduction reactions. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on Archive.org.]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Pennies minted after 1982
  • 12M (concentrated) hydrochloric acid or muriatic acid
  • 2 150 mL beakers or small jars
  • 2 400 mL beakers or large jars
  • 6 M NaOH solution
  • elemental zinc, granulated
  • metal shears
  • hot plate
  • evaporating dish
  • tongs


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Metallurgy and Materials Engineering
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
      • Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Financial Literacy


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access with registration