The word calorie brings up many emotions for some people because they associate it with the fattening effects of food. However, calories are nothing more than a measurement of energy. In fact one calorie is the amount of energy it takes to change the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree celsius. If that doesn't make sense, don't worry, it has been confusing people for hundreds of years. Just remember that calories are energy.
When a gummy bear enters your body, it is slowly decomposed by the hydrochloric acid and the churning action in your stomach. The sugars then move to your blood stream and are delivered to cells where they are broken down through a chemical reaction which causes them to release their energy (calories). This is called cellular respiration and I made a video all about it if you want to know more (click here).
In this experiment I quickly unleash all of the energy (calories) inside a gummy bear through a chemical reaction (learn more about reactions here). I use sodium chlorate but potassium chlorate works just as well. The sodium chlorate is needed because when it breaks down (decomposes) it releases oxygen. Remember that fire (called "combustion" in science) needs three things: fuel, heat, and oxygen. First, I heat up sodium chlorate in a test tube. When it reaches approximately 260 degrees Celsius it becomes molten which allows it to give up its oxygen more easily and as we know, fire needs oxygen. The heated chemical also provides another necessity of fire - heat. The only thing missing for our combustion reaction is fuel, that is why we need the gummy bear (although anything with sugar would work).
When the gummy bear is dropped into the molten sodium chlorate it quickly heats up and starts to melt. The melting sugar is now exposed to large amounts of oxygen from the molten sodium chlorate and a combustion reaction starts (this is the flame you see). This, in turn, creates more heat causing the reaction to happen even faster as more oxygen in released, more sugar is burned and more calories (heat energy) are released from the test tube!
So, the next time you check the label for the amount of calories in your food, don't get angry at the food, instead think about what calories actually mean in science. Oh, and the next time you eat gummy bears, think about this video and imagine the amazing chemistry that is going on inside your belly...and try not to blow up!
Extra: The video above shows one gummy bear with 7.6 calories and a serving of gummy bear with 130 calories. But imagine this reaction with a 5 pound 6,000 calorie gummy bear! Well, I tried it and you can watch the huge fireball reaction by clicking here.
Gummy Bear Sacrifice Demonstration Instructions
Materials (click links to purchase from Amazon.com)
One candy gummy bear (any small piece of sugar candy will work)
Set up ring stand, clamp and test tube. Add 5-7 grams Sodium Chlorate and gently heat the bottom of the test tube until the sodium chlorate is completely molten. You should see bubbles of oxygen. Remove the burner and use tongs to drop the gummy bear into the test tube - stand back and enjoy! (Perform in a well ventilated area - fumes are not toxic but smoke is abundant).
Chemical Equations for the Combustion of Sugar in Sodium Chlorate
Sodium Chlorate: NaClO3
Gummy Bear Sugar (Sucrose): C12H22O11
Decomposition reaction of Sodium Chlorate
Sodium chlorate decomposes into solid sodium chloride and oxygen gas
NaClO3(s) --> NaCl(s) + O2(g) [unbalanced]
Balanced chemical equation for sodium chlorate decomposition
2NaClO3(s) --> 2NaCl(s) + 3O2(g)
Combustion reaction of sucrose
Sucrose reacts with oxygen gas to produce carbon dioxide gas and liquid water
C12H22O11(s) + O2(g) --> CO2(g) + H2O(l) [unbalanced]
Balanced chemical equation for combustion of sucrose
C12H22O11(s) + 12O2(g) --> 12CO2(g) + 11H2O(l)
Keep on Learning!