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Thermodynamics Escape Room Mark as Favorite (59 Favorites)

LAB in Entropy, Gibb's Free Energy , Enthalpy. Last updated April 29, 2020.


In this lab, students are presented with an escape room scenario that challenges them to complete three tasks in order to escape from an old, mysterious Gothic house. Students are given access to a small assortment of chemicals, and standard lab equipment. They must determine which chemicals and equipment will help them to light a tap light without touching it, free a key from a block of ice without using a conventional heat source, and free a lock that is buried in a pile of glue.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lab will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS3-3: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
  • HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into small, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
    • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

AP Chemistry Curriculum Framework

This lab supports the following units, topics, and learning objectives:

  • Unit 6: Thermodynamics
    • Topic 6.1: Endothermic and Exothermic Processes
      • ENE-2.A:Explain the relationship between experimental observations and energy changes associated with a chemical or physical transformation.
    • Topic 6.4: Heat Capacity and Calorimetry
      • ENE-2.D: Calculate the heat q absorbed or released by a system undergoing heating/cooling based on the amount of the substance, the heat capacity and the change in temperature.
  • Unit 9: Applications of Thermodynamics
    • Topic 9.1: Introduction to Entropy
      • ENE-4.A: Identify the sign and relative magnitude of the entropy change associated with chemical or physical processes.
    • Topic 9.3: Gibbs Free Energy and Thermodynamic Favorability
      • ENE-4.C: Explain whether a physical or chemical process is thermodynamically favored based on an evaluation of ∆Go


By the end of this lab, students should be able to:

  • Conduct an appropriate chemical reaction in order to complete a specified task.
  • Calculate the numerical value for the work involved in a specific process.
  • Calculate the value and sign of the heat, q, absorbed or released by a system undergoing a chemical reaction.
  • Determine the sign of ΔH, ΔS and ΔG for a reaction.

Chemistry Topics

This lab supports students’ understanding of:

  • Thermodynamics
  • Enthalpy
  • Entropy
  • Spontaneity
  • Gibb’s Free Energy
  • Chemical Reactions


Teacher Preparation: 45 minutes

Lesson: 50 minutes


  • Assortment of glassware (beakers, graduated cylinders, etc.)
  • Empty Water Bottles (1 per group)
  • Balloons (1 per group)
  • Rubber Stoppers (1 per group)
  • Baking Soda
  • Borax
  • Calcium Chloride
  • Copper Wire
  • Hydrochloric Acid
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Magnesium
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Silver Nitrate
  • Sodium Carbonate
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Sodium Hydroxide
  • Strontium Chloride
  • Vinegar
  • Yeast
  • Lock and key (per group)
  • Water
  • Elmer’s Glue


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • Gloves are available for handing chemicals, as needed.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials and dispose of any chemicals.

Teacher Notes

  • To learn about this escape room, read the article, Using Escape Rooms in the Chemistry Classroom, published in the May 2020 issue of Chemistry Solutions.
  • The author also has created another escape room, designed as an exam review for use in the General Chemistry classroom.
  • This lab can be used as a Thermochemistry assessment in an AP Chemistry class.
  • Note that many of the materials listed are just included as distractors, and are not actually needed to solve any of the three problems.
  • A set of beakers, graduated cylinders, etc. can be placed at the students’ stations. Chemicals are best organized in a central location. As students determine what they need, they can ask the teacher to obtain the material for them. This also serves as a way the teacher can monitor progress and safety.
  • Set-Up:
    • Problem 1: One tap light per group should be placed vertically on the floor, leaning against a desk or wall. Use tape to measure a perimeter that keeps students 5 feet from the light in every direction.
    • Problem 2: Using a disposable container, submerge one key in water for each group and freeze overnight/in advance of the lab.
    • Problem 3: Submerge a lock in Elmer’s glue and water, contained in a disposable container, such as an empty food container.
    • It is recommended that each group is distanced from one another in the classroom in order to encourage independence and limit groups observing each other.
  • Solving the Problems:
    • In order to solve Problem 1 and light the taplight without touching it, students should use vinegar and baking soda to make carbon dioxide gas in an Erlenmeyer flask. They should place the rubber stopper in the opening of the flask as soon as the reactants are combined. Using the gas pressure from the reaction, the rubber stopper can be aimed at the taplight, and students can shoot the rubber to turn the light on.
    • In order to solve Problem 2 and free the key from the block of ice, students could use an exothermic reaction in a small beaker, and then place the hot beaker on the ice to melt it. Alternatively, they could remember that dissolving salts in water can be exothermic, so they could simply put the solid salt directly on the ice cube. As the water melts, the solid will dissolve into the water and melt the ice to free the key.
    • In order to solve Problem 3 and free the lock from a pile of glue, students should use the borax, react it with the glue, to create “slime”, which will free the lock.
  • Students are also tasked with answering thermochemistry related questions for each of the three problems. An answer key has been included for teacher reference.

For the Student



You will have a maximum of 45 minutes in the room. If you solve the puzzle presented in the room, answer the given questions correctly, and escape within that 45 minutes without any help (as described below), you will earn 100 points.

  • After 10 minutes, if you are stuck, you may “buy” a hint at a cost of 10 points.
  • There are a maximum of 3 hints (each costing 10 points).
  • Each hint becomes available after 10 minutes (ex: the second hint is not available until at least 10 minutes after you buy the first hint.)
  • You may buy as many of the 3 hints as you wish. Each hint relates to one of the three tasks, so you may specify which hint you wish to buy.
  • If you escape the room after buying 1 hint, you will earn a maximum of 90 points; if you buy 2 hints, you will earn a maximum of 80 points; if you buy all 3 hints, you will earn a maximum of 70 points.
  • If you do not escape the room within the 45 minutes, you will earn no points, so use the hints judiciously. (Partial credit may be awarded based on the number of tasks completed and the questions answered.)
  • Conversely, if you escape the room within the first 20 minutes, you will earn 5 points extra credit.
  • Groups will be observed as they work together. The tasks do not have to be done in order, but the entire group must be working on the same task at the same time.
  • Addition or subtraction of points for individual group members will be determined by the teacher based on these observations of group dynamics.
  • Please keep safety considerations in mind. If a proctor has to speak to a group about safety, points will be deducted.


It was a dark and stormy night. You and your friends are talking while driving back from your AP Chemistry study session at the library and not paying much attention to your route. When you look around, you realize that you are surrounded by woods, and have no idea where you are. Suddenly, the car makes a strange sound and dies. Everyone reaches for their cell phone, but, mysteriously, all the batteries are dead. Looking around, you see a house in the distance, so together, you head there, hoping for a phone or at least a map.

The house looks like one you read about in English class, Thornfield from Jane Eyre, but in spite of its Gothic appearance, you knock. The door slowly creaks open and you all hesitantly step inside. “Hello?” you call out, but your only answer is the bang of the door closing loudly behind you. You try frantically, but the door won’t open. Just then, a voice seems to come from the very air, “You cannot leave until you have solved the Mystery of Thermo House!”

A door opens and you all walk in. There you see some chemicals and equipment. As the door closes and locks behind you, the voice says, “You must complete three tasks to exit the room. In one task, you must turn on a light. In the other two tasks, you must free the key and the lock. Every 10 minutes you may ask for a hint if you wish. When the light is on, and you can turn the key in the lock and open it, you may leave.”

Everyone looks at each other. “Let’s get to work,” you say and you begin.

As you look around the room, you realize it is set up as a laboratory. You have all the usual laboratory glassware and equipment, plus a few extra things that seem out of place, such as water bottles and balloons. “Those must be there for a reason,” you think. You notice that the substances available to work with are:

  • baking soda
  • borax
  • calcium chloride
  • copper wire
  • hydrochloric acid
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • magnesium
  • magnesium sulfate
  • silver nitrate
  • sodium carbonate
  • sodium chloride
  • sodium hydroxide
  • strontium chloride
  • vinegar
  • yeast


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Gloves are available for handling chemicals.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • Follow the teacher’s instructions for cleanup of materials and disposal of chemicals.

Problem 1: Light the light

On the wall, you will find a taplight. You need to turn on the taplight, but you cannot touch it. You will see an outline of tape on the floor, marking 5 feet around the light—this cannot be stepped on. You must turn on the taplight using a chemical reaction.

  1. Write a balanced chemical equation for the reaction you used.
  2. What SPECIFIC information would you need to calculate the numeric value of the work involved in this process?
  3. What is the sign of work for this process? Justify your answer.
  4. What is the sign of ΔH, ΔS and ΔG for the reaction you used? Justify your answer in each case.
  5. Write a procedure that could be followed by someone with your level of chemical knowledge to reproduce your results.

Problem 2: Free the Key

This key is buried in ice. You need to free the key. (You will notice there are no Bunsen burners or hot plates available in the room).

  1. Write a balanced chemical equation for the reaction you used.
  2. What is the value of ΔH for the reaction used? (Assume no heat is lost to the container and the value of the specific heat for the reaction is the same as that for water, 4.18 J/g°C.)
  3. What is the sign of ΔH, ΔS and ΔG for the reaction you used? Justify your answer in each case.
  4. Write a procedure that could be followed by someone with your level of chemical knowledge to reproduce your results.

Problem 3: Free the Lock

Now that you’ve freed the key, it’s time to free the lock. The lock is buried in glue. You need to separate the lock from the glue with a chemical reaction.

  1. What kind of molecule did you make in this reaction?
  2. Microscopically, what happened as the substances were mixed together?
  3. What is the sign of ΔS for the reaction? Justify your answer.
  4. Is this reaction driven by enthalpy only, entropy only or both enthalpy and entropy. Justify your answer.
  5. Write a procedure that could be followed by someone with your level of chemical knowledge to reproduce your results.