If you insert a bare lightbulb filament inserted in liquid nitrogen and turn on the power, will it light up?
Depending on how much oxygen is around, hydrogen gas can combust in a few interesting ways.
Magnesium combusts in a dramatic way inside a block of solid carbon dioxide.
Combine some iron oxide (rust) with a little aluminum and you get some really nice sparks as well as some microscale chemistry.
What better way to determine the caloric content of food than to burn it with liquid oxygen? There are more exacting ways of course, but the flames (and smells) created this way are pretty impressive. Check it out!
A rocket powered by the combustion of ethyl alcohol. In the end it’s all about action and reaction and rocket nozzle design.
What happens when you torch a towel soaked in a flammable liquid? This result may surprise you.
The Flame Tube (aka Rubens’ tube) allows us to “visualize sound waves” based on the gas pressure inside a steel tube. Read more
A tremendous amount of energy is released when you allow hydrogen and oxygen gas to combine to form water. Check out this demonstration.
Magnesium metal is used in some fireworks to create brilliant white sparks. Those sparks are created as the metal reacts with oxygen in the air.
While carbon dioxide is generally used to put out fires, it turns out that magnesium can also react with carbon dioxide to produce a brilliant flame. Read more
The Space Shuttle Tile
The Space Shuttle is covered with a layer of insulating tiles that help protect the shuttle from the extreme temperatures its experienced during re-entry through the earths atmosphere. The temperatures can exceed 2,300 °F. In fact, the tiles are designed to withstand a transition from areas of extremely low temperature (the void of space, about −454 °F) to the high temperatures of re-entry typically around 2,910 °F.
Basic Rocket Science
At the simplest level, the launch of the shuttle or any rocket for that matter, is based on the concept of action and reaction. The fuel thrust out of the back of the shuttle is what propels the shuttle into space. A simple experiment you can do at home is a film canister filled with carbon dioxide gas. The gas is provided by the reaction of alka-seltzer with water. Drop a half-tablet into a small amount of water in a film canister, seal it tight, flip it over and then watch as it reaches for the sky!
Breathing on the Shuttle
Just how do the shuttle or space station astronauts get their air? Let’s do the math. A single breath can fill a small balloon. A typical adult has a respiration rate of around 15 breaths per minute. There are 60 minutes per hour. There are 24 hours per day. So on a typical day, an astronaut will need:
(15 breaths/minute)*(60 minutes/hour)*(24 Hours/day) = 21,600 breaths/day.
If every breath is the size of a balloon, that’s a lot of balloons. Now imagine that many balloons for every person on the shuttle! The only way to bring that much air is to condense it to a liquid.
The shuttle is powered by a combination of solid fuel rockets and liquid fuel in the form of hydrogen and oxygen from the main fuel tank. What would happen if you used the strong oxidizing properties of oxygen to burn something like cheese puffs?
The BallSplostion = Liquid Nitrogen + Expansion in a Confined Space
We can’t launch our own Space Shuttle from the science center, but a new thing we have been playing around with is something we call the “BallSplosion”. A two liter bottle filled with more liquid nitrogen than the bottle can hold when the nitrogen expands into a gas. This involves a garbage can, liquid nitrogen, play balls, and … Well just watch the video to see what happens!
We talk about how fireworks get their colors everyday in our combustion demonstration at the science center. Something we don’t talk about is what the actual firework shell looks like and how it gets into the air. PBS’s NOVA website has some great information about fireworks, how they are made, the elements used to make the colors and an interview with a Chemistry Professor about fireworks in general. Read more
How do they get the colors in fireworks? They add various metals to the combustible materials. Read more
If you make some soapy bubbles filled with a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gas and then add a flame, what do you think will happen? You get an insanely loud detonation of hydrogen and oxygen. Seriously, you have to be there to really experience the amount of energy released in this reaction. It’s like a gunshot going off in your hands! Crazy Loud. Read more
For the holiday we are exploding eggs filled with hydrogen gas. Check it out. Read more
When you combine a steel tube filled with a flammable gas and sound waves you can create a pretty cool display of the sound pressure inside the tube. Check this out.
Food calories are a measure of how much energy is contained in the food item. A very graphic way to visualize how much energy is in a handful of food is to burn it and observer the flame. We try this with a handful of cheesepuffs and Total cereal. Read more
Methane is a flammable gas that is lighter than air. Often fire fighter have to worry about not only flames that come from the ground, but also dangerous flammable vapors that are lighter than air. Read more
A little alcohol in a 5 gallon water jug will combust in an interesting way when a flame is dropped inside. Read more
Flammable liquids can generate invisible vapors that are also flammable. These vapors can be more dangerous than a liquid spill because they are invisible and can travel a distance to an ignition source. Imagine you spill some paint thinner in your basement, as you clean up the liquid, the vapors can move across the floor to a pilot light. As the vapors ignite the flames will flash back to the liquid spill – and you! Read more