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|Solutions A and B are combined and stirred. Solution C and the ferroin indicator are then added. |
Solutions A and B turn amber, then become clear after one minute. After solution C and the ferroin solution are added, the solution cycles through green, blue, violet, and red. The cycle will repeat these four colors for about thirty minutes.
This demonstration is based on the Belousov-Zhabotinsky family of oscillating reactions. The overall reaction involves the oxidation of malonic acid by bromate ions in dilute sulfuric acid, which is catalyzed by cerium ions.
The mechanism for this reaction involves two different processes running simultaneously: one that produces bromine ions, and one that consumes them. These two processes produce various intermediates, which are probably responsible for the color of the solution at any given time: