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Preparing "Chameleon Balls" from Natural Plants

Simple Handmade pH Indicator and Teaching Material for Chemical Equilibrium

Naoki Kanda, Takayuki Asano, and Toshiyuki ltoh
Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Education, Okayama University, Okayama 700, Japan
Makota Onoda
Shoh Junior High School, Kurashiki City, Okayama 711,Japan
Anthocyanins are found in the flowers and fruits of natuperformed a t least five times without fading of the balls.
ral plants. Because their color depends on pH, they are
Preparation of the chameleon ball is very easy a s shown
in Figure 2. Both alginic acid sodium salt and calcium chlosometimes used as a pH indicator ( 1 ) . Natural indicators
obtained from some common fruits and vegetables have
ride are inexpensive and harmless reagents. Familiar
been used for a variety of teacher demonstrations and simflowers and fruits are anthocyanin sources, red cabbage
and grapes, in particular, are available in the market in
ple student experiments ( l b , LC). The reaction scheme in
Figure 1 shows a typical example of how the structure of
anthocyanins changes under different pH conditions (2).
Oxonium ion 1 turns into colorless euromene 2 when Ht
OH ion content is decreased. Compound 2 then turns into the
quinoid 3 showing a blue color. Thus, the flower extracts
H /
O < \
OH '
R2 .
can be used as a simple pH indicator.
/ OR
Because these sequences are reversible, they may also be
useful in demonstrating chemical equilibrium in the repetiOH
tive color changes of anthocyanins from flowersby controlling
pH conditions. It is difficult, however, to restore a n original
1 (red)
2 (colorless)
brilliant red color once the extracts have been kept under
strong basic conditions, because quinoid 3 is oxidized rapidly
by oxygen, which is naturally involved in water in atmosH+
OHpheric surroundings, to produce a brownish polymerized
compound (3).If the color change from blue to red could be
demonstrated repeatedly, this reaction might be useful in the
teaching of chemical equilibrium a t the high school level. In
/ OR
this paper we describe how polysaccharide beads served as a
teaching tool for the chemical equilibrium of anthocyanins
under different pH conditions.
Anthocyanins in plants are believed to be a complex mixture of various types of glycosides (3). It was thought pos3 (blue)
sible to prevent their rapid oxidative polymerization by entrapment using polysaccharide gel ( 4 ) and this idea was
realized successfully. We first prepared the polysaccharide
beads containing water extracts of red cabbage a s calcium
alginate (5,6). The beads showed a clear red color under
polyphenol (brown)
acidic conditions, turned blue a t neutral pH of 7, and orFigure 1. Reactions tor preparation of the chameleon ball.
ange.yellow at PH of 13. m i s color change could be demonstrated over and over. I t was impossible, however, to regain
this color change reaction when the
Repetitions of Color Change Observed under Different pH Conditions.
extract itself was subjected to the reOrigin (plant)
Color at pH 1 Color at pH 7 Color at pH 13 Repetitions
action. The dark-brownish solution Entry
appearing a t pH 13 did not return to
Black bean (shell)
green yellow
the brilliant red color when the pH 1
was readjusted to 1. Because the color 2
Grape (Peel)
light purple
green yellow
Red cabbage (leaf)
orange yellow
changes of these polysaccharide beads 3
depended dramatically on pH, junior 4
wax myrtle (berry)
light pink
high students in a science class called
Myrica rubra
reddish violet yellow
them "chameleon balls" when we 5
Japanese eggplant (peel) red pink
Solanum Melongera L.
demonstrated this reaction for them.
red purple
The table shows the number of times
Rhododendron sp.
light orange orange
we were able to repeat t h e color3
change reaction of t h e chameleon
Ouercus sp.
Milkvetch (flower)
dark purple
balls from various plant sources. I t 8
Astragalus sinicus L.
was found that red cabbage and grape
(entries 2 and 3 in the table) were the 9
reddish pink light purple
best plant sources for making the cha- 10
Cosmos (flower)
meleon balls because the reaction was



Volume 72 Number 12 December 1995


temperature. Violet solution was obtained after filtration

through a filter paper.


2% sodium alginate aqueous SolUtiOn

newer extract

calcium chloride aqueous solution

Magnetic stirrer

Figure 2. Set-up for peparation of the chameleon balls.

any season. The chemistry of flower pigment is still a very
attractive field of study and has a long history (7).Flower
pigments make interesting teaching materials for students. Making "chameleon balls" is great fun. The ball
should be viewed not only a s a handmade pH indicator but
also a s a n interesting teaching tool of the chemical equilibrium reaction.
Experimental Procedure
Pigment Aqueous Solution from a Plant

One hundred grams of red cabbage leaves in 400 mL of

water was boiled for 10 min, then allowed to cool to room


Journal of Chemical Education

Preparation of the Chameleon Ball

20 mL of 2% sodium alginate aqueous solution and 30
mL of the flower extract were mixed. The mixture was
then added dropwise to 100 mL of 1% calcium chloride
aqueous solution a t room temperature with gentle stirring
and immediately formed small beads. These beads were
collected and washed in water several times on a finely
meshed stainless steel wire tray. I t is recommended that
the beads be kept in the calcium chloride solution in a refrigerator a t about 4 "C overnight before experimental use.
This assures strong beads.
Durability Test of the Chameleon Ball from Various
Plant Sources
Several chameleon balls were placed in 0.1 M HC1 aqueous solution in a test tube and showed a brilliant red color.
The aqueous solution was made basic with 0. 1M NaOH
solution to adjust pH to 13 and the color of the balls turned
blue and then orange-yellow. After standing 5 min a t pH
13, the solution was acidified by addition of 0.1 M HCI
aqueous solution. The ball color turned from its orangeyellow to blue and then to clear red. This operation was
repeated until the beads broke up. Although the chameleon ball is prepared easily from either calcium alginate or
K-carrageenan, calcium alginate is recommended because
it is less expensive.
Literature Cited

1, la1Heines.V J . Chsm. Educ. 1972.49.605. tb)Farster. M.J . Chsm Educ 1978.55,

107. !el Mebane, R. C.:Rybolt. T R.J. Cham.Edue 1985.62.285.
2. Is1 Bmuillatd. R.: Delapotte, 8 . J , A m C k m . Sor. 1977.99.8461. lb) Brauillard, R.;
Dubois, J ~ EJ.
. Am. Chem. Soc 1977.99, 135Q.!r) Bmuillard. R.:Chahim. J.-M.
H. J A m Chem Soc 1980,102,5375.ldi Brouillad, R.: Iseobueei, G.A : Sweenx
J. G . J A m . Chrm. Soc. 1982,104,7565.
3. For example see. Bmuillard. R.; Markakis. P,Eds. Anthocyanins as Fmd Colors:
Academic Press:New York, 1982, p 1.
4. Konda. T:Goto. T. Korvo IFIouarl 1991. 71. It ia Lnown that anthocvanina are sta-

7. Far recent progress on the ehemistn, of flower pigmentp see, Doto, T;Kondo, T.
Angew. Cham. 1991.103,17.