Whoosh Bottle, take 1

My students and I intend to use a high-speed camera to film a variety of chemistry experiments in slow motion.  The first reaction we have decided to film is the “Whoosh Bottle”.  You can read more about this particular experiment in an article in Journal of Chemical Education here.  NOTE:  Only trained chemists familiar with the hazards associated with this demonstration should perform it. Before discussing the filming of this reaction, we’d like to extend an invitation to the ChemEd Xchange community to suggest various chemistry experiments to film with our high speed camera. There are several chemical reactions that we plan on filming in slow motion (especially the thermite reaction!), but I am sure that some of you have some interesting ideas as well. 

 Okay, now back to the Whoosh Bottle. In this classic chemistry demonstration, a small volume of alcohol (usually methanol, ethanol or isopropanol) is placed into a plastic container such as a gallon milk jug or 2L soda bottle. We used methanol as the fuel in our experiments. The container is sealed, and the bottle is shaken to allow alcohol vapor to fill the container. After shaking, the container is placed on the floor, the seal is removed and the vapor is ignited. What happens next? Check out the video below to find out!


After viewing these videos we decided to repeat the experiment but focus more on the flames being ejected from the Whoosh Bottle:

Viewing the Whoosh Bottle reaction in slow motion has brought a number of questions and thoughts to mind.  For example, we are wondering what similarities and differences we will see if we use isopropanol instead of methanol as the fuel for the Whoosh Bottle.  This is because isopropanol tends to combust differently than methanol.  You can learn more about the differences in the combustion of these alcohols in the video below.

Now that you know a bit more about incomplete and complete combustion, view the Whoosh Bottle videos again.  You should be able to differentiate regions of the flame where complete or incomplete combustion is taking place. 

What questions do you have about the Whoosh Bottle after viewing it in slow motion?  Do you have any ideas for Whoosh Bottle experiments to film in slow motion?  Do you have any suggestions for chemistry demonstrations other than the Whoosh Bottle to film in slow motion?  

Thanks go out to Kamal Ghazi and Nathan Ford for helping to film the Whoosh Bottle experiment in slow motion.



Safety: Video Demonstration

Demonstration videos presented here are not meant as tools to teach chemical demonstration techniques. They are meant as a tool for classroom use. The demonstrations may present safety hazards or show phenomena that are difficult for an entire class to observe in a live demonstration.

Those performing the demonstrations shown in this video have been trained and adhere to best safety practices.

Anyone thinking about performing a chemistry demonstration should first read and then adhere to the ACS Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations (2016) These guidelines are also available at ChemEd X.

General Safety

For Laboratory Work: Please refer to the ACS Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools (2016).  

For Demonstrations: Please refer to the ACS Division of Chemical Education Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations.

Other Safety resources

RAMP: Recognize hazards; Assess the risks of hazards; Minimize the risks of hazards; Prepare for emergencies


Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 14

Andres Tretiakov's picture
Andres Tretiakov | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 09:57

Hi Tom, the combustion reaction looks really fantastic and in so much detail. It really shows how it builds up from that initial activation energy provided by the flame on a stick to the release of so much energy. Here in London, England we have been doing similar experiments and demonstrations. A few weeks back one of our students filmed a few with a high speed camera.

These are the results:



I'm sorry I do not know yet how to insert the video only so I have to post the link where you can find a more detailed explanation below in the description area.

More to follow soon.







Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:26


Thanks for sharing your video.  The experiments in your video are beautiful!  In both your ethanol rocket and our whoosh bottle, it looks as though some alcohol in the liquid phase is ejected from the bottles.  This liquid phase alcohol is not initially ignited, but does seem to ignite once it gets hot enough.  Very interesting!

Lawrence Margerum | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:56

Great videos and ones that are sure to get students' attention/interest.

I was approached last year by the Online Discovery Channel "Distort" to comment on their slow motion video of the thermite reaction (please use lots of caution with this demo). Their video is quite spectacular.


[Editors note:] This comment has been edited to remove references to resources that are no longer found at the link provided.]


Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 15:25

Larry, thank you for sharing your video.  It was very cool to see you in the interview.  I did not know that oxygen gas was produced in the thermite reaction.  I always thought the reaction was simply: 

Al(s) + Fe2O3 (s) --> Fe (l) + Al2O3 (s). 

Is the oxygen gas produced an intermediate in the reaction or is it a product?

Kathy Shade | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 13:36

The detail on your video was beautiful. I would love to see a high-speed video of the Mentos in Diet Coke experiment. It goes so fast that it is impossible to see what's happening. It might be messy, however!

Kathy Shade

Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 15:27

Great idea, Kathy!  What would you think if we used Sprite instead of Diet Coke?  We might be able to get a little better view of what is going on without the brown color of the cola getting in the way.

Ashley Dyson | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 15:05

Tom, great videos. What in your experience, is a good choice of video camera for this kind of demonstration? I have used the 200 fps slow motion mode of a compact Canon camera with fair results. Which cameras are best?



Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Thu, 02/13/2014 - 17:01

Hi Ashely, thanks for commenting.

The camera we are using is a Phantom MIRO-EX2.  It runs around $11,000 to $14000, depending upon lensing, lighting, etc.  It is the entry level Phantom camera.  We cobbled together money from various grants to acquire the money to purchase the equipment.  I do not have any experience using any other type of camera, but I know there are less expensive options available.

Marsilio Mark Langella's picture
Marsilio Mark L... | Fri, 02/14/2014 - 12:56


I love demos and do at least three a week. But be careful as some demos when repeated could cause a disaster as the case in NYC recently. Each of the demos recorded I have done for over 20 years but you must make sure to take all safety precautions when recording the demo as an inexperienced teacher may try to replicate the demo and then there is a disaster. Example while lighting the whoosh bottle never hold the wooden splint with your hand. When lighting the water bottle be aware that the bottle can spin and the flame make go in different directions. The recordings are great. Vernier has some of them synched with data from their probes. Live demos are the best and I am sure teachers plan on replicating.


Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Fri, 02/14/2014 - 17:45


Thanks for your comments regarding some of the safety issues we all should consider when performing the Whoosh Bottle demonstration.  I always light the bottle with a wooden splint at the end of a meterstick.  Even from this distance, I can often feel a good deal of heat from the reaction.  I'm glad you bring up the recent accidents that occured during demonstrations that involve methanol combustion, Deanna Cullen blogged about these incidents at http://www.chemedx.org/blog/lab-accidents and http://www.chemedx.org/blog/and-worst-happens-again


Beverly Shevenell's picture
Beverly Shevenell | Sat, 02/15/2014 - 14:59

I read an article not too long ago that said you should never use methanol for the whoosh bottle demo. It cited an accident - one of those terrible stories of students ending up with burns. I'm sorry that I cannot remember the source of the article, but in light of its history of causing accidents, shouldn't we be avoiding the use of methanol in our classrooms? The whoosh bottle works quite well with ethanol, but even that raises my blood pressure significantly every time we do it! 


Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Sun, 02/16/2014 - 07:53

Hi Bev:

Thanks for your concerns.  I have gone back to edit the main article to indicate that only trained chemists familiar with the hazards associated with the demonstration should perform it.  It turns out that some folks (including myself) think that using methanol as the fuel in the Whoosh Bottle is safer than using less volatile alcohols such as ethanol or isopropanol.  See the author response letter at:  http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/ed081p31.1 .  I think this may be because when adding less volatile alcohols to the bottle, more of these alcohols remain unvaporized within the bottle.  Upon ignition, the hot gases formed inside the bottle eject large amounts of unburnt, hot liquid alcohol from the bottle.  When the hot liquid alcohol leaves the bottle, it comes into contact with a large amount of oxygen from the atmosphere.  Of course the hot liquid is then ignited, producing a very large flame outside the bottle.  We have filmed the Whoosh Bottle in slow motion using isopropanol (less volatile than both methanol and ethanol) and we almost always observe more liquid being ejected from the bottle and a subsequent larger flame.  I think the take home message is regardless of which type of alcohol is used, one should make certain that there is little to no unvaporized liquid remaining in the bottle prior to ignition. 

Andres Tretiakov's picture
Andres Tretiakov | Sun, 02/16/2014 - 14:28

Here are a few more ideas and suggestions to film on your high speed camera. I would really like to see the first reaction in detail and of course read about your views and observations regarding this flash reaction.

We have tried the magnesium and silver nitrate flash reaction:


A very small amount of DRY magnesium and silver nitrate powders were mixed immediately before the demonstration. The burette was adjusted so that it released one drop of water every 5-10 seconds.Once this was achieved, the tile containing the magnesium/silver nitrate mixture was placed under the burette. The audience was warned not to look directly at the pile of powder but rather, to the side of it.

When the first drop of water falls into the mixture a vigorous reaction ensues which starts to spit and bubble. Also, some brown toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released. Even before the second drop falls into the mixture, it suddenly bursts into a very bright white flash, leaving flames and smoke in the aftermath.

The reaction is:Mg(s) + 2 AgNO3(s) → Mg(NO3)2(s) + 2 Ag(s)

with some NO2 gas being released as well.

Magnesium is much higher in the reactivity series than silver and, therefore, displaces silver from the nitrate group. The REDOX reaction requires water to be initiated because the two powders are solids, and an intimate mixture is required for the Ag+ and NO3- ions to be able to move.  However, this mixture is so sensitive that saliva from the speaker/demonstrator or even moisture in the air can set it off.

and hydrogen balloon explosions:


The reaction of hydrogen gas with oxygen in the air to form water can be demonstrated by igniting a balloon filled with hydrogen gas. WARNING: audiences should be advised to cover/protect their ears because the resulting explosion can be very loud especially if the balloon is large enough.  The chemical reaction taking place is:

2 H2(g) + O2(g) → 2 H2O(g)

Although this is a fairly simple reaction, it makes a fantastic learning tool and can be applied in several topics in chemistry and science in general. However, it must always be remembered that H2(g) is very flammable in air and explosive if confined and must be handled with care.

For EXCELLENT videos in slow motion, more information, and discussions about this reaction watch Periodic Videos hydrogen explosions:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOTgeeTB_kA&list=PL9eEsN9D48mf4GGDAn1_zr-...

and exploding hydrogen bubbles:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d49TzVF1gmY

Many thanks to student Alex Blackwood who filmed them using the Sony FS-700 camera, filming at 800 FPS.

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Sat, 02/22/2014 - 17:44

I have heard of bottles exploding, so I use a safety shield. If you forget to empty the excess alcohol before ignition, you might end up with a flame at the top of the bottle after the initial explosion. This can lead to some great discussion, but a ruined bottle. It might be a cool addition to your video. I also recommend only using bottles once because they can develop cracks that might be part of the reason some bottles have failed. I am glad to see the safety discussion here. Tom is creating a great service. I love to do live demonstrations, but I tend to avoid explosions and flames unless I feel completely confident in my knowledge and safety equipment. I wonder if a full speed video followed by a slow motion video would be a better alternative for some of these demonstrations that have caused injury.