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Magnesium Research

Magnesium Research

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Magnesium is a metal that burns with a bright light. In the past the light from burning magnesium has been used by photographers as a flash. Magnesium is used in pyrotechnics and making fire bombs. Magnesium alloys are used in making airplane parts. Some magnesium compounds have medical uses among them are magnesium sulfate and milk of magnesia. These are what I have heard or read about magnesium, but I also have many questions.

My question is that why such a flammable metal is used in making airplanes? How is magnesium produced and stored without fire hazard? What is the source of magnesium? I also like to know about the magnesium compounds and know how they are made.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.

Project advisor

Information Gathering:

Find out about Magnesium. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about magnesium, it’s source, it’s reactions and it’s applications. Keep track of where you got your information from.

You may use the following steps to research on magnesium or any other metallic element.

  1. Find out where and in what form is the magnesium found in the nature.
  2. Find out the process of extraction or purification of metallic magnesium.
  3. Learn about the chemical reactions that can be done with metallic magnesium.
  4. Learn about magnesium compounds and their applications







Atomic Number: 12
Atomic Weight: 24.3050
Melting Point: 923 K (1202°F)
Boiling Point: 1363 K (1994°F)
Density: 1.74 grams per cubic centimeter
Phase at Room Temperature: Solid

What’s in a name? For Magnesia, a district in the region of Thessaly, Greece.

Say what? Magnesium is pronounced as mag-NEE-zhi-em.

History and Uses:
Although it is the eighth most abundant element in the universe and the seventh most abundant element in the earth’s crust, magnesium is never found free in nature. Magnesium was first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy, a British chemist, through the electrolysis of a mixture of magnesium oxide (MgO) and mercuric oxide (HgO) in 1808. Today, magnesium can be extracted from the minerals dolomite (CaCO3·MgCO3) and carnallite (KCl·MgCl2·6H2O), but is most often obtained from seawater. Every cubic kilometer of seawater contains about 1.3 billion kilograms of magnesium (12 billion pounds per cubic mile).

Magnesium burns with a brilliant white light and is used in pyrotechnics, flares and photographic flashbulbs. Magnesium is the lightest metal that can be used to build things, although its use as a structural material is limited since it burns at relatively low temperatures. Magnesium is frequently alloyed with aluminum, which makes aluminum easier to roll, extrude and weld. Magnesium-aluminum alloys are used where strong, lightweight materials are required, such as in airplanes, missiles and rockets. Cameras, horseshoes, baseball catchers’ masks and snowshoes are other items that are made from magnesium alloys.

Magnesium oxide (MgO), also known as magnesia, is the second most abundant compound in the earth’s crust. Magnesium oxide is used in some antacids, in making crucibles and insulating materials, in refining some metals from their ores and in some types of cements. When combined with water (H2O), magnesia forms magnesium hydroxide (Mg(OH)2), better known as milk of magnesia, which is commonly used as an antacid and as a laxative.

Hydrated magnesium sulphate (MgSO4·7H2O), better known as Epsom salt, was discovered in 1618 by a farmer in Epsom, England, when his cows refused to drink the water from a certain mineral well. He tasted the water and found that it tasted very bitter. He also noticed that it helped heal scratches and rashes on his skin. Epsom salt is still used today to treat minor skin abrasions.

Other magnesium compounds include magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) and magnesium fluoride (MgF2). Magnesium carbonate is used to make some types of paints and inks and is added to table salt to prevent caking. A thin film of magnesium fluoride is applied to optical lenses to help reduce glare and reflections.

Magnesium deficiency:

Stress intensifies release of catecholamines and corticosteroids, that increase survival of normal animals when their lives are threatened. When magnesium (Mg) deficiency exists, stress paradoxically increases risk of cardiovascular damage including hypertension, cerebrovascular and coronary constriction and occlusion, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death (SCD).

Question/ Purpose:

The purpose of this project is to learn about magnesium, it’s properties and applications.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

For this project we will not need to define variables because we are not focusing in any specific chemical of physical property of magnesium and factors that may affect that.


My hypothesis is that pure metallic magnesium can not be found in the nature and pure magnesium can be made using electrolysis method.

Experiment Design:

Design experiment to test different chemical and physical properties of magnesium.

Experiment 1:

Burning magnesium.


Magnesium ribbon is burned in the presence of O2 (g).


2Mg(s) + O2(g) ® 2MgO(s)


a. 2″-6″ strip of magnesium ribbon
b. crucible tongs
c. propane torch
d. fire extinguisher
e. goggles

Magnesium ribbon can be purchased from laboratory suppliers.


1. Weight and record the weight of magnesium strip.

2. Hang the strip of magnesium metal by a crucible tongs over a metal tray or any other fireproof surface.

3. Use a propane torch to light up magnesium

4. Observe how magnesium burns. White fragile magnesium oxide may remain hanged after burning is completed. Part of magnesium oxide will enter the air in the form of a white smoke.

5. Collect and save the produced magnesium oxide also known as magnesia (white powder).

6. Weight and record the weight of produced magnesium oxide.

Ultra-violet light given off by burning magnesium is very bright and should not be viewed directly, safety goggles will protect your eyes from UV.

Experiment 2:

When combined with water (H2O), magnesia forms magnesium hydroxide (Mg(OH)2), better known as milk of magnesia, which is commonly used as an antacid and as a laxative. Magnesium hydroxide is almost completely insoluble in water.


Place the magnesia that you collect from previous experiment in a test tube and add some water to that (a few drops may be enough). Magnesium oxide will be changed to magnesium hydroxide. Magnesium hydroxide is almost completely insoluble in water, however it should be able to increase the pH.

MgO + H2O => Mg(OH)2

A suspension of solid magnesium hydroxide in water is widely used as an antacid to neutralize excess stomach acid:

Experiment 3:

Magnesium acetate is a low corrosive deicing compound often used mixed with calcium acetate for deicing main roads and bridges. It is made by reacting glacial acetic acid on magnesium carbonate or magnesium hydroxide.


Add small amount of acetic acid to the test tube containing the magnesium hydroxide (from previous experiment) and heat it until it is fully dissolved. You may use an alcohol burner to warm-up the solution.

If you don’t have acetic acid and you want to use vinegar, you will need to add more as shown in the picture. The reason is that vinegar contains about 5% acetic acid and 95% water.

After a few minutes heat and boiling, the solution will become clear and that is when the entire magnesium hydroxide is changed to magnesium acetate.


Transfer the clear liquid to a patri-dish and let it dry (Crystalize).


Small microscopic crystals of magnesium acetate are shown in this image.

The reaction formula for this experiment is:

2 CH3COOH + Mg(OH)2 + 2H2O =>(CH3COO)2Mg.4H2O

Additional experiments:

Both magnesium metal and magnesium hydroxide can react with hydrochloric acid to create magnesium chloride.

Mg(s) + 2HCl(aq) Mg2+(aq) + 2Cl-(aq) + H2(g)

The product will be a clear solution that can later be crystallized.

Similar reaction can happen using sulfuric acid to produce magnesium sulfate.

Mg(s) + H2SO4(aq) Mg2+(aq) + SO42-(aq) + H2(g)

Materials and Equipment:

List of material depends on your experiment design. Test tube, a beaker or a flask can be used for the reaction of acetic acid and magnesium hydroxide. If you use test tube, a test tube clamp is also needed. Your heat source can be an electric heater or alcohol burner. Small electric heaters are good if you use a flask or a beaker. For test tube you will need a much smaller heat source such as the flame of an alcohol burner. We used the alcohol based fuels that is used to keep the food warm and can be purchased from supermarkets. You may perform the experiment outdoor or in a lab with a good ventilation. Smoke of burning magnesium, is not harmful but can place a layer of white dust around.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.


You may want to use the results of the first experiment to calculate the atomic weight of magnesium metal. When magnesium metal burns and becomes magnesium oxide, it becomes heavier. The excess weight is from the oxygen that reacted with magnesium. By knowing the atomic weight of oxygen that is 16, and the weight change caused by oxygen, you can calculate the atomic weight of the metal that has reacted with oxygen. The formula is as follows:

Weight increase after burning



Weight of magnesium before burning

Atomic weight of magnesium 

In the above formula, 16 is atomic weight of oxygen.

Notice that in this formula we are assuming that each molecule of magnesium will react with one molecule of oxygen. If this was a totally unknown metal, we had to consider other ratios as well, so we would get a few different possible answers. Then we had to do more tests to find out which one is the real atomic weight.

Also notice that if you want to use such a method to calculate the atomic number, you can not let part of magnesium oxide go away in the form of smoke. Instead you have to do the burning in a controlled environment such as a glass tube with proper air current and air filters. In this way you will be able to collect the entire magnesium oxide.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


List of References

Did you know that Magnesium Burns In Steam?


  1. To determine the effect of placing lighted magnesium ribbon into steam produced by boiling water.


  1. Water
  2. Flask
  3. Tongs
  4. Magnesium ribbon
  5. Ring stand
  6. Bunsen burner


  1. Place flask containing water on the ring stand.
  2. Light the bunsen burner under the flask and let the water boil.
  3. Place a strip of magnesium ribbons in the tongs, then ignite it by placing it in the flame of the Bunsen burner.
  4. With the tongs, lower a piece of lighted magnesium ribbon into the steam.

Magnesium Burns In Steam
Random Picture #1 Random Picture #2
Random Picture #3

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