Junior chemistry: Acids function like atomic-kids accepting candy-protons
While changing a car battery recently, my second grader was confused about why I seemed so concerned about getting sulfuric acid on my skin or my clothes. She had heard the word ‘acid’ before, but only that it was a component of orange juice and thus nothing to be concerned about. What was this stuff that could burn holes in shirts, help digest food in our stomachs, and just be tasty in citrus fruit? Without time to run my daughter through Chem 101, the clearest way to convey the basics of oxidation and reductions was with kids, and candy.
How long can hand-holding hold out?
If every kid on our street is an atom, the way they’ll behave will change when they hold hands, making bonds as some sort of jumping, giggling molecule. The behavior of each child is different of course, but we can kind of lump them together by age groups which will help us predict which ‘molecules’ will be erratic and which will be more stable, possible thanks to a rule-abiding older sibling in the mix. These groups should basically be fine until we test their bonds with the introduction of an acid, which in this case will be someone’s parents holding a box of candy.
Acids can “eat” their way through other substances because they break up bonds in other molecules. They do this by acting as “proton donors,” which means they have an extra proton (or loosely bonded hydrogen atom) they can let go of. That proton can’t be ignored by other molecules, even if they have to break themselves up to grab it. In the case of our hand-holding kids, showing up with a proton-lollipop might not be tempting for the stronger hands of the older kids, but the three-year-olds are probably happy to let go with at least one of their hands to secure the candy. When they let go of their neighbors, they’ve broken the original molecule and rebonded with the candy, creating new substances in the process. And maybe left you with a hole in your shirt.
Pushing those proton-snacks
A neutralized kid may have broken up their original bonds, but in the process, they’d have secured any stray candy so that it couldn’t prove to be a temptation to anyone else. To make sure there’s no loose candy around, you can introduce another hungry kid, as a base, who will happily grab those extra protons balance out your system. If your concern is to break up the kids who are still holding hands, more strongly acidic grown-ups, with candy they don’t want for themselves, can then push their Pixie Stix or Tootsie Pops on the kids who try to hold out against these sugary snacks.
This all seemed to go over well enough, although I feel like I need to keep an eye out for my children to be looking to eat household acids in case they turn out to taste like lollipops.
Source: Acid Definition and Examples by Anne Marie Helmenstine, About education