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Finding the Carbon in Sugar

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

The Science of Combustion

In this activity, students observed the following properties of global resources.

  • Burning, or combustion, takes place when a fuel combines rapidly with oxygen. This is a chemical change. The process of burning releases energy, most of which is given off in the forms of light and heat.
  • When something burns, CO2, water, and other substances are released. Carbon dioxide, originally trapped by green plants during photosynthesis, forms again during burning and is released. Water, also essential for photosynthesis, also is released. Most fuels produce additional substances, such as smoke and soot, and gases like methane and carbon monoxide, when they are burned. Some fuels, such as natural gas, burn more cleanly than others, such as coal. However, all fossil fuels release carbon back into the atmosphere during combustion.
  • Fuels made from living materials contain carbon. The pathway of energy through Earth’s living and non-living systems closely parallels the routes followed by carbon in the carbon cycle. A simple element, carbon is a key element of the molecules produced and used by all living things. Plants and other photosynthetic organisms create food molecules from carbon dioxide, water, and energy from the sun. They use this energy to drive all other processes necessary for life. When carbon-containing substances (wood, oil, natural gas, coal) are burned, carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.


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