Pedagogy in Action > Library > Interactive Lecture Demonstrations > Examples of Teaching with Demonstrations > Copper Extraction Demonstration

Copper Extraction Demonstration Tutorial

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Oct 3, 2005

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Dorothy Merritts and Robert Walter, Franklin and Marshall College


students watching copper demo

This demonstration uses sulfuric acid and crushed copper ore (malachite) to produce a solution of copper sulfate and carbonic acid in a beaker. When a freshly sanded nail is dropped into the copper sulfate solution, native copper precipitates onto the nail. The process is similar to that of heap leaching at a copper mine. The entire set-up can be placed on a wheeled cart and completed in less than 15 minutes in class. Students enjoy seeing the copper crystals form on the nail, and the experiment provides the basis for many avenues of discussion, from chemical reactions and mineral formation to problems with mine tailings and acid mine drainage.

How to set up the demonstration

Set up time for the copper extraction demonstration is minimal (<1 hour). Malachite samples can be purchased for minimal cost from Ward's Natural Science . Prepare the acid and crushed malachite in advance. Setting up the demonstration provides a list of materials and set-up procedures.

How to do the demonstration

copper sulfate solution in beaker with nail and copper precipitate The copper extraction demonstration takes about 10 minutes of class time. It is helpful to follow the demonstration with a brief discussion of what happened, which might take as long as 20 minutes. The discussion allows time for copper to precipitate onto a nail at the end of the demonstration. This precipitate can be passed around either during or after the discussion. Doing the demonstration in class outlines one way in which the demonstration can be used in class, along with tips for engaging students in the demonstration.

Ideas for discussing the copper demonstration in class

More ideas for class provides background material for topics of discussion related to the demonstration, including
  • what happened (i.e., the geochemical reactions during the demonstration) and
  • how the demonstration is an analog for processing mineral ores.

References and resources

  • The Arizona Mining Association has a site for educators that describes copper mining and production.
  • The International Copper Study Group (ICSG), an intergovernmental organization, provides thorough descriptions of the history of copper use, copper commodity prices, world production and consumption of copper, and much more.
  • The U. S. Geological Survey/s Mineral Resources Program (more info) contains a wealth of information related to minerals, ores, metal commodities, and relevant statistical information.