Homemade Silver Ornaments

Our AP Chemistry students got hands on in their latest lab assignment!
Our AP students created beautiful silver ornaments while demonstrating a practical application of an oxidation– reduction chemical reaction. The process “reflects” the way silver mirrors are actually produced!

In 1835, the German chemist Justus von Liebig invented a silvering process to plate a sheet of glass with a thin layer of silver metal by reducing silver ions with dextrose. This chemical method of lining glass with a “silver mirror” ushered in the modern era of producing mirrors for common household uses. Ms. Chambers’ students applied this method to make silver holiday ornaments!

The overall reaction is a classic oxidation–reduction reaction between silver complex ions and dextrose in ammonia solution. Dextrose or glucose (“blood sugar”) is a simple carbohydrate. It is an example of a reducing sugar, so-named because it is capable of reacting with and reducing mild oxidizing agents such as Ag+ or Cu2+ ions. In this experiment, dextrose molecules reduce Ag (NH3) 2 + complex ions to form silver metal, which plates out as a thin coating on the inside of the glass ornament!