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Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays: A Science Lesson

March 31, 2009

Did you miss me yesterday? Yeah, I missed you, too. I had one of them meeting things that the corporate world is so fond of. It was alright. I got free lunch, I didn't have to work in the lab, and I giggled and tittered and tee-heed at my boss' picture from a recent skiing trip in which his goatee--coated over with snot-drippings and snow--caused him to bear an uncanny resemblance to Wilford Brimley and/or Diabeetus Cat. The only drawback was the chair I was sitting on made my ass hurt. A lot.
Anyway, let's talk less of my boss' resemblance to old men with oatmeal fetishes and more about blowing the living hell out of some shit! Remember last week's post, in which a bunch of morons were blowing up a balloon and deafening themselves at the same time? Here's a link to take you back in time and refresh your memory, should you need it.

The comments section (spurred on by my own concrete lack of knowledge) brought about quite a number of guesses about what was in the balloon in order to cause it to detonate so grandly. I originally wavered between hydrogen and methane (both readily accessible); Scope thought it had to be something else, something incendiary; Hap thought that since it wasn't fully buoyant that it had to be something like methane.

This is where blogging life spills over into real life. My friend Joe--the third smartest person I've ever met, right behind Dr. John Nichols and Dr. Xavier Creary--knew exactly what was in the balloon. Apparently, when he was in undergrad, he had a professor who showed the kids how to make good homemade bombs. After Joe told me about this guy, I suddenly thought that maybe I would make a good teacher...except for that whole stare lingering too long over the comely lass in the front row with a short skirt. Wait, where the hell was I?

Oh, yes, last week's explosion. Apparently, if you combine hydrogen and oxygen in a stoichiometric mixture, you get a bang like that. It just flashes and "boom" and very little fire is given off from the explosion--it's gone in a flash. For instance, there's this; apparently, someone snuck a camera into Joe's professor's lectures:



Now, compare that to a "pure" hydrogen fire. There's plenty of sound and there's plenty of flame...which I've never understood because hydrogen itself burns with no visible flame, according to experts. Being as how I'm just a schlub, I'll take their word for it, but I've seen it burn this bright yellowish-orange flame. In fact, here's a pure hydrogen balloon going up.


Notice how that guy was all safety first, what with the gloves and the long pole to ignite the fire. Fuck safety glasses, he said. Tsk tsk. We'll have to write you up, Mister Hydrogen Balloon Man.

So, what's the difference? Apparently, the presence of oxygen is the key here. See, in the second balloon, the oxygen is pulled from the surrounding atmosphere. In the first, I assume that the hydrogen has been mixed with the correct amount of oxygen in order to undergo the accordant combustion or combination reaction (take your pick which you want, since--technically--this reaction falls into both).

How to know the amount of oxygen to mix in there? That's a good one. You need to balance you some equations. For instance, we know that what we have here is hydrogen reacting with oxygen. Hopefully, you also know that hydrogen and oxygen mix to form water. I'll also assume that you know that hydrogen and oxygen are both diatomic molecules. What, were you sleeping during chem class? So, we write the reaction like this:

H2 + O2 ---> H2O

Except, you'll notice, that on the left hand side of the arrow (which is used to show a reaction has taken place), you have 2 oxygens and on the right hand side, you have only one (remember, subscripts go with the element in front of them). Since matter cannot be destroyed nor created, we have what is called an unbalanced reaction. Therefore, we must put numbers out in front of our reactants (on the left hand side) and our products (on the right hand side) so that all the amounts of atoms match up. It should look something like this:

2H2 + O2 ---> 2H2O

So, essentially, what that tells us (other than the fact that you can't subscript on Blogger), is that you need twice as much hydrogen as you do oxygen in order to get the big ass bang that we saw last week and in the first video.

And who says science can't be fun? Oh, right. Everyone. And they'd be right.

And now...I'll let Chemgeek--a Real Professor of Chemistry--pick apart my post.

26 comments:

Some Guy said...

I wish my teachers had used more explosions as teaching aids. And not just in science classes, either. English, history, you name it.

Poobomber said...

You mean you can't make hydrogen peroxide by stuffing a bunch of oxygen and hydrogen in a container and shaking it up?

Damn, all this while I've been bleaching my anus with water.

Anna Russell said...

It's science and I understood it. You, sir, are a genius.

Susan said...

Shit. I must have missed a chapter in my Chemistry for Dummies book I so elequently read yesterday. Will be back...

Cowguy said...

I'm smarter after reading your post today. I think I can even tie my own shoes now!

Seriously, cool stuff and good reading. We never got past acetylene and O2 mix kablamarations.

Sassy Britches said...

You had me at stoichiometry. That's the only word I remember from chemistry class because that's the only thing I could actually DO without...ummm...a little outside assistance!

Sass said...

I like coffee.

I like long walks on the beach.

I've never liked beets.

Sometimes my right eye twitches.

I'm not smart. So you intimidate me.

*end scene*

Moooooog35 said...

"Apparently, if you combine hydrogen and oxygen in a stoichiometric mixture, you get a bang like that"

Um.

Duh.

struckbyserendipity said...

To think that I enjoyed this stuff in chemistry blows my mind today.

Soda and Candy said...

OK, I can't even think about the post now, because your subheading on your blog title is definitely from a comment I made somewhere (about Beloved) and I can't remember for the life of me where it was!!!

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Some Guy: That's why my high school chemistry teacher is the best. She did stuff like this. Maybe not always blowing shit up, but she did cool stuff with chemistry. That's why I blame her for going into the profession.

@ Poobomber: Maybe try mCPBA (meta-Chloro-peroxybenzoic acid). Not only will you have the free-radical oxygen generation from the peroxide, but you'll have the acidic washing of the freshly bleached skin. Should the burning feeling be too much, a simple quench with 30% ammonium hydroxide should do the trick.

@ Anna: And a humble genius at that. A dashingly handsome, chiseled, god-like humble genius. With a huge dick.

@ Susan: You missed the stoichiometry chapter in Chemistry for Dummies? That should be, you know, right up front.

@ Cowguy: Never underestimate the power of the loop-de-loop. And...acetylene and O2...I think I know what to look for next! (like the NSA isn't already wondering why I'm watching twenty homemade explosion videos on Monday nights...)

@ SassyBritches: You only remember 'stoichiometry'? You don't remember other such glimmering examples of scientific verbalism such as "equilibrium", "kinetics" or "steady-state approximation"?

@ moooooog35: Hey, I don't come to your blog and tell you how to do karat--oh, shit. Never mind. Carry on.

@ Sass: A simple cup of coffee has over 1000 chemicals in it. Also...your comment sounds eerily like an R.E.M. song. Or a poem by Patrick Star. Stop it!

@ Serendipity: You and me both, Muse. You and me both...

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Soda & Candy: You're just now noticing this? Also, you made the comment in my comment section. I won't say where, in case you don't want to totally blow your cover.

Soda and Candy said...

Yeah... I'm not the Queen of Noticing Things!

I knew it was on one of your posts, just can't remember which one. But yeah, cover is important.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Soda & Candy: So I noticed. See what I did there.

And, your secret's safe with me...Batman.

coolred38 said...

The only thing I have ever been able to blow up with any sort of finesse and awesomeness....was a coca cola bottle with a fairly large fire cracker in it. The fact that a large shard of blown up glass tore a large chunk of my leg off is beside the point...the extensive amount of flowing blood totally boosted my bad bitch image among my equally brainless peers...ah good times.

btw I know nothing about about chemistry...Im totally hiding that fact with an interesting tidbit about moi!!!

Girl Interrupted said...

It's official ... I don't DO chemistry

I do have an urge to blow something up though

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ CoolRed38: Holy crap, woman! Do you have a bitchin' scar to show for your troubles? (see how well your ruse worked? Awesome).

@ Girl Interrupted: Try as I might, I don't do chemistry either. According to some of the machines at work, I do alchemy.

Chaka said...

Thanks for putting the cool back in school. I'm always a fan of watching stuff blow up, espceially when I can do it from a safe distance on Youtube.

Cora said...

Alchemy, huh?! Mjenks, I'm swooning. When you perfect the elixir of life, give me a call, 'kay? ;-)

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Chaka: Thanks. And, yes, I prefer to keep my hydrogen explosions/fires at the safe distance YouTube provides.

@ Cora: You, of all my readers, should be the one to know that I can't do that. They destroyed the Philosopher's Stone way back in Year 1. Sheesh. Haven't you noticed a distinct lack of Nicholas Flamel running around the joint?

Kimizzy said...

Who guessed Hydrogen in your comments section???

Who was that again???

Who was RIGHT (and therefore the biggest nerd in the world)?

Kimizzy + Chemistry = In Love Forever.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Yeah, my standard I was absent that day answer must apply here. I would have failed this class greatly but not for lack of trying and I'm quite sure the result would have been me blowing up lots of shit I wasn't supposed to.

Hap said...

I didn't think about O2. Oops.

TishTash said...

My chem teacher in high school proclaimed me the Gas Law Queen due to the ass-kicking I gave that particular test. This would've been useful to me had I pursued a career in chemistry or had I been a dude prone to the fart jokes.

Lisa-tastrophies said...

@Some Guy ~ I tried using explosives in my Language Arts lessons, but the principal muttered something about legal ramifications and fire codes ~ he really does put a damper on the fun we teachers try to have. Then again, I also wanted to use the guillotine instead of detention period ~ cuts down on repeat offenders ~ and he asked me if I had met the school guidance counselor yet.

MJenks: STOP!!! You are killing me! I am so bummed about not learning this stuff the first time. You make it look fun ~ which is completely opposite of what my Chem Lab TA made it look like. :-)
P.s. Love the diabetes cat.

Nej said...

I worked with a guy who was Wilford Brimley's long lost identical twin. The only thing missing was the walking stick.

(Oh, did I just age myself with an Our House reference? Ugh!)