Chem Connections

Earth, Fire, and Air: Can Fast Gas-Forming Reactions Save Lives?

he development of airbag systems for automobiles will be used as a case study for introducing a variety of gas-forming reactions and their stoichiometry. Students will learn how to determine mass/mole relationships, balance equations,and carry out gas law calculations.

3 3-hr labs, 9 1-hr class sessions

Prerequisites: none
Initial Testing: Spring '96
Tool Kit: Particulate Nature of Matter, States of Matter, Experimental Design
Topics: stoichiometry, balancing chemical reactions, gas laws, decision making
Interdisciplinary aspects: Chemical and Mechanical Engineering
University of California at Berkeley:
Angelica M. Stacy,
Marco Molinaro,
Jennifer Loeser,
Susan E. Kegley,
Jim Klent, Ohlone College,
Interdisciplinary consultant and Co-author:
Gary F. Holland, Olin Aerospace Company


The development of airbag systems for automobiles will be used as a case study for introducing a variety of chemicals and chemical formulas, how to determine mass/mole relationships, and how to carry out gas law computations. Other concepts such as heats of reaction and kinetics will be introduced, but only to the extent necessary to understand their importance in airbag design. Problem solving, assessment of relative risks, and trade-offs in the design of airbag systems will be explored. This 3-week module includes 3 laboratory experiments with hands on experience of igniting gas-forming compounds, and an optional class research project. The module is intended for beginning chemistry students (either majors or non-majors).

Materials to be developed

Multimedia Materials

  • Interactive simulation of gas-forming reactions
  • Computer simulation of managing a chemical company
  • Computer-based animations for classroom use
  • Activity involving design of an improved airbag system (presented as a poster)

Standard Materials

  • Text for students Guide for instructors
  • Small-scale demonstrations of explosions
  • Laboratory experiments involving gas-forming reactions

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Last modified: 7/20/02 at 5:57 PM