Science project

Be a Detective! Is it a Physical or a Chemical Change?

Research Questions:

  • How are the following terms defined: matter, mass, solid, liquid, gas, plasma, volume,
  • properties, physical change, chemical change and reversibility?
  • What is Boyle’s Law?
  • What is Charles’ Law?
  • How does a physical change differ from a chemical change?
  • Why is it of value to differentiate between physical and chemical changes?

On the information level, this experiment serves to acquaint students with basic information as to how chemists differentiate between chemical and physical changes. Students learn to observe both the physical and chemical properties of elements and compounds as well as changes which result in new substances and compounds. This project is an excellent vehicle to provide basic concepts in chemistry such as the nature o matter, the states or phases of matter, the properties of matter, the theories as to how these changes occur and the resultant products of physical and chemical changes. In the process the students learn to take safety precautions and to work effectively in a lab situation. This science fair experiment also serves to acquaint students with the essential processes of sciencing such as the importance of the use of a control, of identifying dependent and independent variables, of data collection, of pictorial and or graphic presentation of data and of being able to make better judgments as to the validity and reliability of their findings. They take on the role of scientists and in the process they learn to act as one.


  • Baking soda
  • calcium chloride
  • phenol red solution
  • 1 large sized plastic ziplock bag
  • 1 vial with cover, 2 spoons
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 graduated cylinder or measuring cup
  • paper towels for clean up
  • safety glasses
  • gloves
  • lab apron.
  • These are readily available from Chem. Scientific. Somemay be borrowed from the school’s lab.

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Gather all the materials you will need for this project. These include baking soda, calcium chloride, phenol red solution, one large sized plastic zip lock bag, one graduated cylinder or measuring cup, one vial with cover, one beaker, two spoons, paper towels for clean up, a camera to take photos of the experiment (if you wish) , safety glasses, gloves and lab apron.
  2. Put on your safety equipment. Do not handle any of these substances with your bare hands!
  3. Copy the Data Chart provided on the next page so that you can readily record your observations.
  4. Start with the chemicals your are to work with and note their properties in the chart. Include solid, liquid, gas, odor, texture, color. Do not taste any of them!!!!!
  5. Are your gloves on? Begin by placing one teaspoon of baking soda into the plastic bag. Now add one teaspoon of calcium chloride to the bag and mix them.
  6. Using your graduated cylinder or your measuring cup, pour out 10 mL of the phenol red solution and pour it into a vial. Now, very carefully place the vial upright into the bag with the powders.Now seal the bag.
  7. With care, make sure you are keeping the bag closed. Now, tilt the bag empting the phenol into the baking soda and the calcium chloride mixture. Hold the bag. Observe what happened. Record the changes. Any evidence of a physical or a chemical change? Now make certain to wash your gloved hands thoroughly!!!!
  8. Study the data you have just gathered. Stop and consider. Were there any physical changes made, any chemical changes made? What evidence would you present for each case?
  9. What happened that was unexpected? Was the unexpected of any possible value?
  10. Investigate further .Are there any chemical changes that produce the reverse results? Would that have any practical applications?
  11. Were you to investigate this change process in the future, what else might you doing? Any new directions?
  12. Write up your investigation. You may wish to include photos of the before and sifter stages of this experiment. Be sure to include your bibliography.                                                                     

                                                       Chart of Observations 

Chemicals Used Before Mixing: Properties After Mixing: Properties
Calcium chloride    
Baking Powder (not soda)    
Solution of Phenol Red    


Terms/Concepts: Matter, solids, liquids, gases, plasma, mass, volume, atomic particles, Boyle’s Law, Charles’ Law, physical change, chemical change, reversible, hand warmers.


VanCleave, Janice, Chemistry For Every Kid, John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, N.Y. 1989, pp91 -119

Hone, E , Joseph, A, Victor, Brandwein, P, A Sourcebook for Elementary Science, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York/Burlingame, 1962

Disclaimer and Safety Precautions provides the Science Fair Project Ideas for informational purposes only. does not make any guarantee or representation regarding the Science Fair Project Ideas and is not responsible or liable for any loss or damage, directly or indirectly, caused by your use of such information. By accessing the Science Fair Project Ideas, you waive and renounce any claims against that arise thereof. In addition, your access to's website and Science Fair Project Ideas is covered by's Privacy Policy and site Terms of Use, which include limitations on's liability.

Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.

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