Chemistry of Cars


The Ford Chemistry of Cars videos highlight the chemistry involved in aspects of production and operation of automobiles. They are part of a larger Chemistry of Cars resource collection, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company.
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    The Internal Combustion Engine Video

    This video investigates both the mechanical and the chemical processes used in the internal combustion engine, as well as the history and evolution of the combustion engine.

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    Catalytic Converters Video

    This video investigates the role of a catalytic converter and its corresponding chemical reactions within a vehicle. Students will learn about both oxidation and reduction reactions and how they, in combination with a catalyst, can impact the molecules released in a car’s exhaust.

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    Alternative Fuels Video

    This video analyzes alternatives to petroleum based fossil fuels, such as biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells.

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    Hybrid and Electric Cars Video

    This video explores the chemistry in the batteries that power hybrid and electric cars.

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    Cool Science: Building and Testing a Model Radiator

    In this lab students construct a model of a car radiator to investigate parameters that lead to efficient cooling. Students investigate multiple variables as they experiment with various radiator designs. This lesson focuses on thermochemistry calculations and engineering practices.

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    Battery Basics

    In this lesson students will explore the chemical reaction that occurs within a lead-acid car battery and the role of the battery within a car prior to creating their own batteries.

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    How Far Can We Go?

    In this lesson students compare energy densities of lead acid and lithium ion batteries to understand the relationship between electrochemical cell potentials and utilization of stored chemical energy.

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    The Importance of Motor Oil Viscosity in Optimal Car Functioning

    In this lesson students will determine how temperature affects viscosity and relate the data to the structure of motor oil and the optimal functioning of a car.

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    Structural Isomers

    In this activity, students will use models to explore structural isomers, and create explanations for the impact of structure on intermolecular forces (London dispersion) and physical properties (boiling point).

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    How Fuel Cells Work

    In this lesson students will investigate how fuel cells provide energy in modern cars. Students will have the opportunity to explore redox reactions, through both an online animation and a simulation in order to understand the potential of a fuel cell.

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    Fractional Distillation of Crude Oil

    In this lesson, students will be introduced to simple distillation while expanding their knowledge of intermolecular forces. Once a simple distillation has been accomplished in the lab, students will then research the various products of fractional distillation of crude oil and report on one of those products.

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    Biofuels of the Future

    In this lesson students will explore the world of automobile alternative energy sources through the study of biofuels. They will design and create an e-book that illustrates and explains one of the provided topics or an original idea approved by the teacher.

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    The Hot and Cold of it All

    In this lesson students will analyze the effectiveness of different brands of antifreeze/coolants and their ability to protect an engine in cold climates. Students will conduct a lab investigation to examine the freezing point depression in samples that have been diluted with distilled water. Students will also determine the specific heat capacities of antifreeze/coolant products as compared to pure water and explain how it relates to thermal energy transfer in the internal combustion engine.

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    Fuel Line Antifreeze

    In this lesson students will explore the role of a gasoline additive, fuel line antifreeze (generally methanol or 2‑propanol), in reducing the potential of water to block fuel lines in freezing weather. Students will prepare test tube models of water-contaminated fuel tanks and explore the effect of adding different types of fuel line antifreeze. This lesson can be used to bolster concepts about miscibility, density, intermolecular forces, phase changes (freezing), and colligative properties (freezing point depression).

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    The Right Polymer for the Job

    In this lesson students are introduced to polymeric materials by exploring polymers (mostly plastics) used in automobiles. Students will learn about the features that all polymeric materials have in common and the features that distinguish one polymer from another on the molecular level. Students will learn how the molecular differences translate into property differences. The selection of a polymer with the right properties for any particular application is of critical importance in an automobile.

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    The Power of Polymers

    In this lesson students will use lab activities and discussion to explore polymers and their use in 3D printing, with an emphasis on the benefits of 3D printing in automotive manufacturing.

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    Not Breaking Up is Hard to Do: the Properties of Glass

    In this lesson students will learn about the properties of glass, and relate those properties to the new engineering design of glass in a car.

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    Mechanisms and Properties of Airbags

    In this lesson students will learn about the mechanisms and properties of airbags, and examine the choice of airbag inflator from several points of view.

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    Redesigning a Car for the Environment

    Chemland’s city public transportation board has requested the class to help them determine the direction the city should move towards in reducing the carbon footprint. Students will be divided into groups and will come up with proposals of how to reduce the carbon footprint from carbon dioxide released from vehicles. The groups will represent different ways to reduce the carbon footprint via an alternative fuel source or a new technology. They will debate their findings to determine the direction that the city council should move towards to reduce the carbon footprint.

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    Catalysis & Catalytic Converters

    In this lesson students will be introduced to catalysts while expanding their knowledge of chemical reactions and stoichiometry. They will first learn about catalytic converters and then be challenged to create the best “catalytic converter” of hydrogen peroxide to oxygen gas in an inquiry-based activity.

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    Exploring Automotive Corrosion

    In this lesson students will investigate the galvanic corrosion that can occur when different metals come in contact with each other in modern cars.

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    Give Your Car Some Bounce

    In this lesson students will learn about polymerization, specifically as it pertains to rubber tires and other materials in a vehicle. Students will take on the role of an engineer, and will investigate physical properties of different polymers and/or elastomers to determine the best material to use for an assigned product.

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    Engineering a Vehicle

    In this lesson students will take on the role of a Ford Motor Company engineer and evaluate the potential use of carbon fiber technology for use in the automotive industry.