Jumping Flame

(A Montessori Science Inspired Experiment)

About This Experiment

You are going to try to get a flame to “jump” from a lighter to a candle wick without touching the wick.

You’ll Learn

  • How candles use wax as fuel (phase changes from solid to liquid to gas).
  • What smoke is made of.

Pre-Experiment Questions

  • What part of a candle is burning? (Light a candle and look closely).

Materials

Safety Considerations

❗🔥 🧯This experiment involves open flames. Avoid burns. Wear protective glasses and gloves. Wear fire-resistant clothing. Conduct this experiment outside or under a properly ventilated lab hood. Do not conduct this experiment near flammable substances or objects. A fire extinguisher and first aid equipment should be available and within reach. Follow all other general safety procedures. This experiment should be performed by an adult. Perform this experiment at your own risk.

Procedure

Part 1

  • Put your candle on the fireproof surface. 
  • Light your lighter, and hold the flame near the candlewick without touching it.
    • Did it light the candle? 

Part 2

  • Light your lighter, and touch the flame to the wick.
    • Did it light the candle?

Part 3

  • Light your candle if it is not already lit. Let it burn for 60 seconds.
  • Blow it out.
    • What did you see?

Part 4

  • Light your candle again, and let it burn for 60 seconds.
  • Light your lighter.
  • Blow the candle out, and quickly put the lighter flame near the candle, but not touching it. You want it to be in the line of smoke coming from the candle.
    • What did you see? Try it a few more times and watch the flame closely.

What's Happening?

Wax doesn’t burn well as a solid. First, it has to melt into a liquid – that’s why you have to start the candle with another flame like a lighter. The candle wick absorbs the liquid wax, and brings it closer to the heat source: the flame. Then, the wax gets so hot that it turns into wax gas. The wax gas interacts with the oxygen in the air and the heat from the flame. The wax gas burns, and turns into carbon dioxide and water vapor.

When you blow the candle out, there is some wax gas that hasn’t turned into carbon dioxide gas and water vapor yet. That wax gas can catch on fire if you put a flame near it, and the flame will travel back down to the fuel source: the candle. 

Conclusion & Further Research

Use these questions as a guide to write a journal entry, make a poster, give a presentation, or write a research report about this demonstration or a related topic. With permission from a teacher or parent/guardian, you can also come up with your own experiment to learn more about this topic.

  • What part of a candle flame is burning?
    • Hint: Is it the wick, the liquid wax, the solid wax, or the wax gas?
  • What kind of wax is your candle made out of? Would this demonstration work with a different kind of candle wax like soy or beeswax?
  • How far can a flame jump? Does it depend on the amount of smoke? The size of the candle? Something else?
  • Do jumping candle flames have any “real-world” applications other than being a cool trick?