Science Sunday

Here's something that it never occurred to me to do: Using yet another thermite reaction to make metallic sodium!

(I think that technically a thermite has to be a metal powder plus a metal oxide; in the above test of the temperature tolerance of a picnic table, the experimenter is using sodium hydroxide drain cleaner, rather than sodium oxide. But it's clearly still a thermite-ish reaction.)

This is way more fun than the way I would have chosen to split the sodium out of sodium hydroxide, by merely electrolysing the molten NaOH, as Humphrey Davy did.

This technique is, of course, an eminently suitable first step into chemistry for Cub Scouts, very drunk people and trained chimpanzees. Preferably all at once.

If you'd like to make it a little less dull, try doing it in the rain!

(That whole page is pretty darn entertaining. See also "By good fortune the molten sodium hydroxide was so hot that it had vaporized the water in my skin and sloughed off without burning me chemically", from a gentleman who went on to win a Nobel Prize... but not for chemistry.)

And now, a bloke whose voice doesn't sound as if it's really meant to be that deep, using yet more molten NaOH to dissolve some glass!

In comparison, it's a positive letdown when all he does is stick his hand in liquid nitrogen...

...make potassium permanganate at home (take that, War On Some Drugs!)...

...freeze some acetone...

...or make a calcium acetate solution by reacting vinegar with antacid tablets, and then use it to gel some alcohol.

And finally, the piece on potassium (it's one louder than sodium) from the inimitable University of Nottingham Periodic Table of Videos:

6 Responses to “Science Sunday”

  1. Bern Says:

    Haha! You're right, that "My Chemical Mishaps" page is hilarious...

    It's somewhat wondrous that he survived long enough to write that page up!

    I especially liked this bit about the pipes he used for the phosphorus experiment:

    ...when I took them apart they bust into flames. When I cleaned them they burst into flames, when I looked at them weird they bust into flames, heck, let's face it, they were busting into flames just to be bursting into flames.

  2. Anne Says:

    If you want unwise experiments, I made chlorine gas, enough to see the color, in a high school science class - just electrolyze salt water. (Do keep the two gases separate, though.)
    [Boring people who don't like bits of glass bouncing all over the lab put the test tube for that reaction inside a metal tube with a window for the light to get in. -Dan]
    Unfortunately, there's no really good way to trap the chlorine, since it dissolves well in water. We just let it bubble into the classroom. (No, our experiment was not the most unwise one running on that public demonstration evening. I still remember our teacher came running for the fire extinguiser with a look of glee on his face.) But if we had been really unwise, a U-tube and some dry ice in acetone would have allowed us to collect liquid chlorine. (Note the absence of gloves and corresponding presence of bandages in that last link.)

  3. Shadowex3 Says:

    I've always taken great pleasure in cheerfully pointing out how many things in this word will happily kill you if given the right opportunity.

    Bern: Reminds me quite a bit of Derek Lowe's Things I won't work with blog.

  4. corinoco Says:

    HSC Chemistry. 1988 or therabouts.

    We were doing some experiment with Potassium Bromide and a very weak nitric acid solution.

    Friend approaches our bench asks "What do we add the KBr?" we say that (pointing at jar of concentrated nitric acid) and then blah blah blah.

    Seconds later... teacher asks "who has the concentrated nitric acid?"

    Seconds later... a wierd "FWOOOOOOSSSHHHHH!" noise from back of room.

    Scene: started friends in shock as test tube violently spouts pure liquid bromine straight up. It vapourises instantly forming a cloud, which drifts across the room, precipitating and raining liquid bromine on anyone silly enough to get underneath it.

    Hilarity. Mayhem.

    I didn't do well at Chemistry, but I had fun!

  5. Changes Says:

    The "my chemical mishaps" page is proof that there are two types of chemists: lucky ones, and dead ones. *shudder*

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