Sunday, September 5, 2010

How to safely put your hand into really scary liquids - fun with the Leidenfrost effect

vector version of this imageImage via Wikipedia

Check out these two videos demonstrating the Leidenfrost effect.  If you have ever seen drops of water bounce around on a hot skillet, that's the Leidenfrost effect.

First Theo Gray puts his hand into liquid Nitrogen.  Liquid Nitrogen is really cold:  −196 °C, −321 °F.  You have probably seen demonstrations where something like a rubber ball or a rose is dipped in Liquid Nitrogen - on freezing at such a low temp most things will shatter if dropped or hit with a hammer.

Theo Gray dips his hand into a large container of liquid Nitrogen without developing a permanent case of frost bite by taking advantage of the Leidenfrost Effect.  Since his hand is much warmer than the liquid nitrogen, a very thin layer of gaseous nitrogen forms and acts as a protective barrier between the bulk liquid nitrogen and the surface of his hand.

Adam and Jamie demonstrated the same effect with molten lead on an episode of Mythbusters.  This is kind of the opposite of the liquid nitrogen case - instead of using an extremely cold liquid they are using a very hot liquid.  Lead melts at 621 °F, but they actually did the experiment at about 800 °F.

To be protected by the Leidenfrost effect they needed a thin layer of gas between their hands and the lead, so they dipped their hands in water and shook off the excess before putting their hands into the liquid lead.  The small amount of water on their hands vaporized to provide the thin, protective layer of gas between their skin and the liquid lead.  The fun starts about 2 minutes into the clip.

It goes without saying - making a mistake when doing this will have severe consequences. Don't try this at home.

You can safely stick your hand in liquid nitrogen...but you probably shouldn't |

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