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Chemistry & Physics

Chemistry of combustion, emissions from automobiles, and primary and secondary pollutants

(For Teacher Notes and Student Materials, see Printer-Friendly Version of Lesson Plan). You may also wish to download the PowerPoint presentation.

Standard Statements

3.1.10b - Describe concepts of models as a way to predict and understand science and technology.
3.2.10b - Apply process knowledge and organize scientific and technological phenomena in varied ways.
3.2.12b - Evaluate experimental information for appropriateness and adherence to relevant science processes.
3.4.6a - Describe concepts about the structure and properties of matter.
3.4.10a - Explain concepts about the structure and properties of matter.
3.4.12a - Apply concepts about the structure and properties of matter.
3.5.12c - Analyze atmospheric energy transfers.
3.6.12a - Analyze biotechnologies that relate to propagating, growing, maintaining, adapting, treating and converting.
3.6.10c - Apply physical technologies of structural design, analysis and engineering, personnel relations, financial affairs, structural production, marketing, research and design to real world problems.
3.8.10a - Analyze the relationship between societal demands and scientific and technological enterprises.
3.8.12a - Synthesize and evaluate the interactions and constraints of science and technology on society.
3.8.10c - Evaluate possibilities, consequences, and impacts of scientific and technological solutions.
3.8.12c - Evaluate the consequences and impacts of scientific and technological solutions.
4.2.10c - Analyze how man-made systems have impacted the management and distribution of natural resources.
4.3.7a - Identify environmental health issues.
4.3.10a - Describe environmental health issues.
4.3.12a - Analyze the complexity of environmental health issues.
4.3.12c - Analyze the need for a healthy environment.
4.8.10d - Explain how the concept of supply and demand affects the environment.
4.9.10a - Explain why environmental laws and regulations are developed and enacted.
10.1.12d - Evaluate issues relating to the use/non-use of drugs.
10.2.9e - Explain the interrelationship between the environment and personal health.
10.2.6e - Analyze environmental factors that impact health.

Content Objectives

Students will know that
  1. The relationship between atoms, molecules, and elements.
  2. The basic products and reactants of a combustion reaction and the ideal products of combustion in automobiles.
  3. The real products of combustion in automobiles.
  4. Specific effects of primary and secondary pollutants.

Process Objectives

Students will be able to
  1. Relate the products of combustion to population density and conditions of burning.
  2. Relate combustion emissions to human and environmental health.
  3. Identify the fuel in a given combustion system (candle, car, lighter, etc).

Assessment Strategies

  1. Evaluation of completed student handouts.
  2. Group discussion of key ideas.
  3. Evaluation of a reflective essay.
  4. Evaluation of research project in Part 4.

Suggested Level

Grades 7 - 10

Environmental health, properties of matter


Grades 9 - 12

Chemistry, environmental emissions, science and technology in society

Standard Category

3.1 - Unifying Themes

3.2 - Inquiry and Design

3.4 - Physical Science

3.5 - Earth Science

3.6 - Technology Education

3.8 - Science, Technology, and Human Endeavors

4.2 - Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources

4.3 - Environmental Health

4.8 - Humans and the Environment

4.9 - Environmental Laws and Regulations

10.1 - Physical Activity

10.2 - Concepts, Principles and Strategies of Movement


Per group or per individual:
  • Copies of student worksheets

Per group or per entire class:
  • Oil lamp
  • Oil ( do not to use non-sooting oil)
  • Candle ( inside a jar)
  • Coffee filters (bowl type for a drip coffee maker)
  • Masking tape
  • Vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment nozzle

Instructional Strategies

Individual or small group


Part 1 (1, 50-min Class Period)
  1. Decide in advance when you will want your students to complete the “Lung Attack” online tutorial referenced in the PowerPoint Presentation.
  2. Present the PowerPoint presentation, “Vehicle Emissions,” noting that the presentation is broken into sections and can be tailored to the appropriate level of the class. Use the light blue action buttons to skip sections of the presentation that you do not feel are relevant to your class. (If you skip questions, adjust which questions in the student handout you want your students to answer.)
  3. Introduce (or review) balancing chemical equations. Remind students that there should be the same number of each element on each side of the equation.
  4. Help the students complete the section in their handout dealing with nitrogen oxides by reviewing the corresponding slides in the PowerPoint.
Part 2 (20 min)
  1. Prepare an oil lamp and light it. Adjust the wick so that the students can see black soot coming from the flame. Ask what is causing the soot. Explain that the flame is fuel rich, meaning that there is more fuel available than there is oxygen available. Therefore, there is incomplete combustion.
  2. Cover the end of a vacuum cleaner nozzle with a coffee filter. Use a piece of masking tape to tape the ends of the filter to the nozzle.
  3. Collect a sample of the “soot” from the flame by holding the nozzle about 6 inches above the flame for about 30 seconds. CAUTION: Be sure to hold the nozzle far enough above the flame so that you do not catch the filter on fire.
  4. Adjust the flame size (by adjusting the lamp wick) so that there is no visible soot. You may want to clean the glass or have a spare glass cover available. Ask the students if they can see any soot coming from the flame.
  5. Repeat the procedure for collecting the soot from the flame using the coffee filter and vacuum nozzle. There should be some soot on the filter for this second position of the lamp wick. Ask your students to compare the two filters and ask them why they look different. Basically, if you have a fuel lean system (i.e. more available oxygen), you obtain less soot.
  6. Link this first experiment to the balanced combustion equation (this is a good place to link limiting reagents if in a chemistry classroom). Review ideal versus real emissions.
  7. Place a candle in a jar, and light it so that the flame is below the lip of the jar. Ask the class what the fuel is for a candle flame. Ask them what component of air (nitrogen or oxygen) is necessary for combustion and how much nitrogen and oxygen are actually in the air (~80% and ~20%, respectively).
  8. Cover the jar with a glass lid, such as a watch glass. Watch as the candle blows out. Ask the students why this occurs.
Part 3 (Variable)
  1. Have a class discussion to address any questions from Part 1 and Part 2 of the activity.
  2. Allow the students to complete the essay described in Part 3 of their handout.
Part 4 (Variable)
  1. Assign the research project outlined in Part 4 of the student handout. Give students some time to figure out what topic they would be interested in researching further, and then ask for their topics.
  2. Allow the students to present their research projects to the class.