Understanding how gases work is kind of difficult because you cannot see it. Air is gas, we breathe it, and we feel its pressure decreasing when we climb mountains or fly on a plane. But we still cannot see or feel it in our normal daily lives. So how do you explain it to children or to people who are not so much into chemistry? With magnets, of course.
Cody’s Lab is one of the best YouTube channels you have to subscribe to if you like science projects. Cody don Reeder, creator of the channel, recently demonstrated how gas works by modelling its molecules with magnets. This is surprisingly brilliant and a very simple idea. Because magnets repulse each other if they are facing each other with matching poles, you can levitate layers of them in a simple glass body.
That is what Cody made – a simple little toy, made of two sheets of glass with magnets sandwiched in between. Small magnets are free to move and because they repulse each other, they sort of float in layers. Very much like gas. When this model is standing vertically, you can see that the distance between these magnets is decreased at the bottom – magnets on top are pushing lower ones closer together, even if they are not touching. That is why air at low altitude is denser than higher in the atmosphere.
Cody also showed how adding some atoms may cause a reaction, producing larger molecules that may not even be gas anymore. This can be done by simply turning one magnet around and throwing it into the mix. It could represent, for example, a boron atom being introduced into fluorine gas. You can see this toy in action here:
This is a brilliant idea that could be easily adapted in schools. Such a simple toy can explain so much visually – this is very important, because children like learning about what they see, not what they read. And, of course, magnets are always fun.