Acetone flashlight

Copper wire glows in acetone vapor

Scientific name: Catalytic oxidation of acetone on copper wire


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Perform this experiment outside, in a fume hood or in a well ventilated room. Please note that acetone is a highly flammable liquide.

There is a serious fire risk - a fire extinguisher should be ready. You must prevent the hot copper wire from igniting the acetone.

Keep all flames away from the open vessel with acetone. The reaction products are toxic when inhaled. Wear eye protection.

Always follow general safety recommendations. Please note that conducting chemistry experiments you must comply with the relevant legal procedures in your country.

Reaction formula

CH3COCH3 + 3/2O2 -[Cu]→ CH3CHO + CO2 + H2O


  1. Acetone
  2. Copper wire

Step-by-step instruction

  1. Put a small amount of acetone into a beaker.
  2. Take a copper wire and make a construction that you can easily put inside the beaker. The wire should hang about 1 cm from the surface of acetone. If the wire is closer it could ignite the acetone.
  3. Heat the copper wire in a flame until it glows red and put in the beaker with acetone without touching its surface.
  4. Acetone vapor is oxidized by oxygen on the copper wire surface. The copper wire acts as a catalyst in this reaction which generates a lot of heat which makes the wire glow red hot.

Scientific background

Heated copper catalyzes the oxidation of acetone vapor on the metal surface.


Published on 24 December 2014

  • Fire
  • Heating with fire
  • Explosion
  • Poisoned gas
  • Organic
  • Electricity
  • Solution
  • Oxidation reduction
  • Color change
  • Precipitate
  • Gassing
  • Catalyst