Science Experiment Ideas: Epsom Salts

By Christopher Cascio

Epsom Salt isn't actually salts. It's a compound of magnesium sulfate named after a salt spring in Surrey, England. Magnesium sulfate has many uses; It helps to relieve muscle cramps and regulate electrolytes in the body, which helps your muscular and nervous system function properly. Because magnesium sulfate has so many useful properties and is easy to obtain, it is useful for a variety of home experiments.

Creating Crystals

Pour 1/2-cup of Epsom Salt into a plastic cup, and add 1/2-cup of hot water to the salt. Stir the solution until most of the salt has dissolved. Place the cup in the refrigerator, and check it after three hours. You should notice a substantial amount of needle-like crystals growing on the bottom of the cup. The hot water allowed you to dissolve a lot of salt in the water. When you put it in the refrigerator, you lowered the temperature quickly, and the salt reconstituted as the cluster of crystals. Remove the cup from the refrigerator, and cut open the side of the cup so you can remove the crystal cluster without breaking it.

Hardening Water

Fill two jars each with a cup of distilled water, and then add 1 teaspoon of Epsom Salt to one of the jars of water. Secure a lid onto the jar with the Epsom Salt solution, and swirl the jar to dissolve the salt. Then, remove the lid. Add a few drops of regular dish detergent -- not the type for dishwashers -- to each jar, and secure both lids. Swirl the jars and notice how the one without the Epsom Salts forms many more soap bubbles than the jar with the salt solution. By adding the Epsom Salt you hardened the water in that jar, which means the mineral combined with the soap molecules and rendered them ineffective.

Insoluble Salt

Mix 25 milliliters of Epsom Salt and water in one container, and mix 25 milliliters of sodium carbonate and water in a second container. Then, mix the two solutions in a conical flask. Place a funnel into a second conical flask, and then set a paper filter into the funnel. Gently swirl the mixture, and then slowly pour it into the funnel, and allow it to filter through the paper before you add more. A salt will collect in the filter paper. Once you've poured the entire mixture into the second flask, gather the filter paper -- with the salt inside -- and set it somewhere to dry. The Epsom Salt reacted with the sodium carbonate to form magnesium carbonate, the insoluble salt you collected in the filter paper.

Making Magnesium Sulfate

In this experiment you will create Epsom Salt by combining magnesium carbonate and sulfuric acid. Add 20 milliliters of sulfuric acid to a clean beaker. Add small amounts of magnesium carbonate to the beaker, and stir the solution slowly -- and for 30 seconds -- after each addition. After you've added 1 gram of the magnesium carbonate, heat the beaker for 2 minutes over a low flame. Remove the flame and let the beaker sit until it is cool enough to hold, but still hot at the bottom. Place funnel into a second beaker, and a paper filter into the funnel. Gently swirl the solution and then slowly pour it into the funnel. The salt that builds up in the funnel will be magnesium sulfate.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."