The color of light emitted by metal ions in a flame is unique to that metal, just like a DNA fingerprint is unique to a person. In this project, you will see these colors, learn what causes them and learn about the metal to solve the case of the leaky barrel.


A small town in South Georgia has experienced rapid growth in the last 15 years. Three subdivisions are about to be built on old landfills. The houses to be constructed will cost $250,000 and up. Needless to say, the contractors & real estate agents do not want to tell prospective buyers. There is a problem! Several leaking barrels have been found on the build site and when hydrologists tested the ground water, they discovered contaminants. It is your job to determine what they are & what to do about the situation. Can the houses be built? Will the EPA need to be called? What is the fate of the proposed subdivisions? Will you recommend that the build permits not be given???


You will be a part of a group of 3 working on this project. The steps are listed in the procedure in detail. You will be testing known metals to find their flame color, testing your unknowns, doing research, and producing a presentation to give to the “city council.”


 1.) Work in groups of 3 (3 chemical engineers)

 2.) Part #1: Testing Knowns (Flinn Lab)

          -Can you predict the color of the following?

                   -Cupric Nitrate

                   -Sodium Sulfate

                   -Potassium Nitrate

 3.) Part #2: Testing Unknowns

-Test sample based on knowledge gained from part #1. Using info you gather, you will…

 4.) Part #3: Research (See below)

          -disposal based on human impact

                    *(A. It is ok with minor filtration OR B. Must call in the state & federal authorities)

           -industrial & other uses (who put the barrel there- use imagination as to which one)

          -impact of metallic ion & its compounds on humans

5.) Part #4: Presentation

-create a presentation powerpoint describing what you found and present to city council on:

    1.) What tests you did? How the tests works? What you found? (relate to what we have discussed in class)

    2.)What are the uses? Who put it there?

    3.) What are the impacts on humans?

    4.) What are your recommendations to the city council before the subdivision can be built?

Research Focus:

-what causes flame colors (explain in terms of electrons)

-how did you determine what metallic ions you had

-what are the uses of this metallic ion & its compounds

-what is the potential human impact (see above)

-what is the proper disposal and safety of the metal that is found

METAL COMPOUNDS FOR RESEARCH (depending on which metal ion you find)

1.) Calcium Nitrate - Ca(NO3)2

2.) Cupric Chloride - CuCl2

3.) Lithium Chloride - LiCl

4.) Potassium Nitrate - KNO3

5.) Strontium Sulfate - SrSO4

6.) Sodium Nitrate - NaNO3


Flame Emission Spectroscopy

Element ID & Emission Spectra

Flame Coloration by Element

For your particular metal ion/compound: Go to Google and type in "Uses of ______" to begin

Evaluation (total 140 points)

Part#1: Knowns Lab (40 points)

Part #2: Research & Presentation (click here for rubric) (100 Points)