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Traffic light is the name of a clock reaction which will
spontaneously change color from yellow to red after a
gentle shake. After a more vigorous shake, it will then
turn from red to green. Once left alone, the mixture
will return to the yellow and the process may be

A clock or oscillating reaction is a type of chemical reaction in which the concentrations of the products and
reactants change periodically, either with time or with position in the reaction mixture. Thus, the
concentration of a component may increase with time to a maximum, decrease to a minimum, then
increase again, and so on, continuing the oscillation over a period of time.

Oscillating chemical reactions have certain features in common. They all occur under conditions far from
chemical equilibrium and all involve autocatalysis, i.e. a product of a reaction step acts as a catalyst for that
step. Moreover, oscillating chemical reactions are associated with the phenomenon known as bistability.
Bistable systems have two or more possible steady/stable states. Interaction with an additional substance
in the reaction medium causes the system to oscillate between the states as the concentrations change.

Oscillating chemical reactions are thought to occur in a number of biochemical processes. For example,
they occur in glycolysis, in which ATP is produced by enzyme-catalysed reactions. They are also known to
regulate the rhythm of the heartbeat. Most have highly complex reaction mechanisms.


A 26.7g KOH in 1L H2O
B 33.3g Glucose in 1L H2O
C 0.5g Benzoin in 500mL Ethanol
D 1g Indigo Carmine indicator in 200mL H2O

GLASSWARE: 500mL Erlenmeyer w/ stopper

50mL Graduated Cylinder
10mL Graduated Cylinder
1. In the Erlenmeyer flask, add the following:
a) 50mL of the “A” Solution
b) 50mL of the “B” Solution
c) 15mL of the “C” Solution
d) 4mL of the “D” Solution

2. Swirl and let stand until the solution turns yellow (2-3 minutes). Stopper the flask. It is now ready.

3. Give the flask one gentle shake or swirl and watch the solution turn from YELLOW to RED.

4. Give the flaska a 2nd , much more vigorous shake will turn the solution from RED to GREEN.

5. Let the solution stand and within a minute, it will revert back to yellow and the experiment can be


This is probably a step-wise 2-electron oxidation of indigo carmine that causes the observed color changes.
The benzoin seems to act to make the color changes more crisp. The glucose may be involved as the
reduced species. KOH is necessary to make the system basic, as indigo carmine has a pKA well above pH
The solution “dies” after 6 or 7 cycles. To revive it, add an additional 1mL of indigo carmine. This will keep
your solution alive for weeks!
The reaction mixture may be discarded in the sink with running water.


Traffic Light by Jerry Weiss, furnished by Lorri A. Reilly.