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Q. Dear Ted Mooney,

My friend and I are in the 8th grade and live in a place where resources are limited, so if we wanted to do a project on electroplating it would have to be a simple experiment without higher level chemicals. We were looking for a science project and became interested in electroplating when we saw your site. Our teacher requires that we have a question to solve through our experiment, and we know that we want to do a project with electroplating for our science fair, but we have one problem :we don't have a question to answer through our experiment.

We were considering using: What is electroplating? or What metal electroplates the best?, but the first question could be answered through simple research and the second is more of an opinion. Also, if we were to do a project on electroplating, we have read other letters of yours that say plating pennies with zinc is the best idea for school aged children. What other metals are best, and what solution do you use?

Could you help us with a question for our science project? We appreciate your help!

Lauren W [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Naples, Italy

"Electroplating Engineering Handbook"
by Larry Durney
on AbeBooks

or eBay or


(affil links)

"Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes: Unforgettable Experiments that Make Science Fun"
by Steve Spangler

on AbeBooks

or eBay

or Amazon

(affil links)

A. Hi, Lauren. Yes, I do believe that the plating of pennies with zinc would be the best experiment, but you could also plate nickel coins with copper. Please see our FAQ: "How Electroplating Works" for a description of both of these projects.

In either case, you just need to use vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon (adv.)] plus a salt as the plating solution. epsom salt [affil links] is a safer ingredient than table salt because it is impossible to release chlorine from a solution that has no chloride in it, whereas table salt (NaCl) can theoretically release chlorine gas if unknowledgeable hands fool around with it too much and use too high voltage. All the info is on-line here, just start with the page I linked for you, and for more information use our search engine until you find anything you are looking for.

Personally, I think the best question such a project can answer is "Can electroplating be done without using any toxic chemicals?" This would correspond well with the worldwide efforts towards "greener" chemistry, plus I think you, your teacher, and your fellow students would find the topic fun.

You will find out that your answer will be "Yes, but..."

And you will list the problems that you encounter: "... it's very laborious because you have to hand scrub every piece to clean it; you have to buff the coins after plating to make them shine because you used no chemical brighteners; the thickness was very limited; the process was very slow because you could not dissolve much zinc into your very mild acid..." etc.

Good luck having fun and learning science!

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I am also an eighth grader and am looking for an electroplating experiment. However we are not looking for something where the project IS electroplating, but a problem/question where a step in solving it is using electroplating. Do you have any ideas we can use? Thank you very much

Benjamin S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- lawrence, NY, america
February 2, 2012

A. Hi, Benjamin.

How about: How can we prevent steel screws from rusting and staining everything?


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
February 2, 2012

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