io9 continues its award-winning series on why water is the most dangerous substance on earth. Discover yet another way to make water explode with simple items from around the house.
To understand how to make water explode this time around, it's necessary to step into that most hateful of all sciences; chemistry. Physics has various space programs. Biology, when low-tech, is all about swimming with the dolphins, and when high-tech is about edging ever-closer to cloning something really cool, like a giant kangaroo.
Soft sciences like sociology and psychology are just good excuses to study sex all the time.
Chemistry is like cooking without ever being able to lick the bowl.
Fortunately, all the chemistry needed in this case is the understanding that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms group-hugging an oxygen atom. Under the right conditions, the hydrogen atoms can be torn away, but they will leave their electrons with the oxygen, perhaps as a sentimental token of affection. Stripped of their electrons, the hydrogen atoms will be positive ions. The abandoned oxygen will be decidedly negative.
Making an explosion will be all about causing this break-up, and harvesting the sweet, sweet ions that it yields. First, construct the proper container for the project. Since two different gases will be collected, two different outlets will be necessary. However, both outlets need to draw from a shared reservoir of water. A good design for this is up on Instructables.com. It is also easily made from a couple of empty soda bottles.
Next there needs to be an electric current flowing through the water. That's no problem. Wires attached to a battery will take care of that. Dunk the ends of both wires of the battery in water, and crank it up. Soon, there should be little bubbles of gas appearing by each of the wires.
To the negatively-charged oxygen ion, the positively charged side of the battery is a dream come true. It separates from the hydrogen and rushes over. The positively charged hydrogen, meanwhile, makes a beeline for the negatively charged wire. Both gases nucleate and bubble up, ready to be collected.
After that, it's really up to the collector how they want to explode them some gases. Some choose to do it in whatever container they store the gases in. Others prefer to do it with style by forcing the gases through a thin layer of soapy water in order to make exploding soap bubbles and traumatize their younger siblings for the rest of their lives. Still others might playfully put a Tupperware container of pure hydrogen gas in the fridge to see if their chain-smoking roommate has been mooching their food.
The possibilities are endless. The reaction? Is always the same. Both hydrogen and oxygen produce reactions that are, as they say in the lab, highly exothermic. In other words.
Now comes the obligatory safety lecture.
This experiment contains so many creative ways to get hurt that it is probable that just scanning it decreased the reader's life expectancy by three years. Some readers might have experienced a slight twitching of their dominant hand. That was primitive instinct. They were trying to jam a pencil into their own eye before they could read through this article and do something stupid.
And the potential for stupid injury is massive.
The phrase, "Oh, the humanity," was not always just a cynical thing to say when someone got trampled at a mall opening. It was actually uttered spontaneously by a human being after other people got too confident with humanity's old friend, Hydrogen. It is always tempting to create a situation in which one can coin a new, popular phrase. Resist the temptation.
This post also talks about mixing electricity and water. Perhaps a volunteer among the commenters could explain one of the myriad things that could go wrong when water and electricity come together.
What's more, some of the sources that this post links to mention that plain water won't allow enough flow of electricity and recommend adding some salt to the water. This changes the gases made by the project quite significantly. One site which, horrifically, seems to be geared towards children, informs its readers that, by adding salt, they will be adding chlorine to the mix, and the bubbles produced will be chlorine gas.
Will be chlorine gas.
Will be gas, made up of tiny little particles of chlorine.
Unless anyone is planning an ultra-realistic reenactment of World War I, no one on earth needs to produce chlorine gas, for any reason. Do not do that. Do not. Do not do it. Do not think about doing it. Do not.
Once again, these are experiments best left to people who don't mind risking their safety for YouTube hits. Please, enjoy the boom, but only enjoy it online.
Top image via 3D Verstas