With a little work, you can make a penny glow – but only if it was minted before 1982. What was the big change in 1982 that ruined the trick forever? The answer will make you want to hoard your pre-Reagan Era pennies now, because this glowing penny trick is awesome.
So you want to make your penny glow. That can easily be arranged. A fairly simple procedure can give you a penny that will glow for about twenty minutes at a time. All you need is a little bit of set-up. First grab a penny and some fairly stiff wire. (The wire can be copper, too.) Next grab a couple of oven mitts. Wind the wire around the penny so you can hold it out like a marshmallow you’re about to toast. Next? Toast it. Either put it over a propane torch, or carefully warm it over a burner on the stove. It’ll heat up fairly fast. Don’t let it get meltingly hot – just warm.
Next grab some acetone. You can find it in nail polish remover or paint thinner. Pour a couple of tablespoons into a jar and lower the penny down so that it just touches the acetone, or is immersed in it. Within a few seconds you’ll see it begin to glow red hot.Or perhaps it won’t. Only pennies made before 1982 will make this reaction work. Modern pennies are mostly zinc, with only 2.5 percent copper. Earlier pennies were 95 percent copper with just a little extra zinc added. And copper is indispensable for this reaction.
Acetone can catch fire, but it usually takes more than hot metal to get it to burn. Copper, in this case, acts as a catalyst. When a material burns it needs to grab oxygen. For it to do this, it often needs a lot of heat. Different materials need different amounts of heat, which is why they burn at different temperatures. Acetone generally needs more heat than is presented in a hot coin, but copper has a special property. It will grab hold of the oxygen itself, and pass the oxygen along to the acetone, overcoming the energy threshold generally needed to get it to burn. When the acetone burns, it releases heat and heats up the penny, which keeps the reaction going. The heat helps the copper grab oxygen, which it again passes along to acetone. The penny isn’t diminished by the reaction at all. In fact, assuming it will burn off the grime that generally collects on old pennies, it should finish the reaction better than it started.
Sadly, zinc doesn’t have the same effect. …