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Finding the Carbon in Sugar

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

Session 2: Sugar as Fuel

  1. Have the Materials Manager for each group collect a candle, a square of aluminum foil, a wet paper towel and one or more copies of the “Sugar as Fuel page.” Have students create a “testing spoon” by shaping the foil into a spoon-like shape with a long handle (see student page). The bowl of the spoon should be made of only one layer of foil.

  2. Instruct students to clear all papers and place the candle on the wet towel in the center of their work area.

  3. After students have completed their spoons, have one person from each group measure about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar into the spoon. Have students predict what will happen when they heat the sugar over a lighted candle. They should record their predictions on the "Sugar as Fuel" page. 

  4. Light the candle (which should be placed on the wet paper towels) for each group. Direct each principal investigator to hold the bowl of the “spoon” over the candle flame. The other members of each group should observe and record what happens to the sugar. (The sugar will become liquid and turn amber-colored. This is caramel, similar to the topping used for desserts such as flan and custard. Finally, the sugar will burn and become blackened.) 

Safety note: Students should not eat or touch blackened sugar. The used sugar will be hot and should be disposed of properly after the investigation.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932


Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education