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Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays: The Purple Powder of DOOM!

June 23, 2009

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. It's something that some of my brethren in the chemical world would appreciate me keeping under wraps, but I can't do it any longer. The truth must be known.

The truth is this: General Chemistry isn't all gas laws and molality. We totally love blowing shit up! We even take times between drawing Lewis Dot Structures and calculating Gibbs' free energies to watch...movies. Movies about totally blowing shit up!

And you know what? We love those movies. It's probably a bad idea to give a bunch of pyros access to chemicals--even if it is in the relative safety of a supervised and monitored laboratory setting--but still. I would look forward to getting to see these little explosive vignettes from time to time rather than learn a new a creative way to transform an amount of something into moles of something.

That's how I learned about this little beauty here. I've seen maybe five or six different versions of the explosive reaction featured in this video, and really, it never gets old to me. To think that something could go off with just the touch of a feather? Awesome.


What you see there is nitrogen triiodide. The beauty of nitrogen triiodide is that, when it's wet, it's completely stable. When it dries out, the shit's as touchy as an overweight, middle-aged man about his car. As you can see, just brushing it with a feather can get it to go off. Later in my chemical career, my undergraduate professor for gen chem, quantitative analysis and p chem, Dr. Awesome, told me about how his room mates would whip up some nitrogen triiodide (he called it ammonia triiodide) and then those wily chemists would paint Dr. Awesome's keyhole (to his door, you sick fucks) with the wet stuff. That way, when he finally rolled back to the dorm, he'd stick his key in the door and BLAM! Instant Heart Failure!!!

He said he was usually tipped off when he would step in front of his door and he'd hear a faint "Paff!" come from under his foot where he had stepped on a spot where the nitrogen triiodide had dripped off the paintbrush and dried on the floor. We chemists know how to have an awesome good time.

Why is this so shock-sensitive? Take in a deep breath. 70% of what you just filled your lungs with is diatomic nitrogen. The reason why 70% of our atmosphere is comprised of this is because it's so stable. Chances are, there's a molecule or seven of N2 going into your lungs right this very second that went into Jesus' lungs, too. The only ones who are good at using this stuff are bacteria that live on the roots of bean plants, fixing nitrogen in the air so that the bean plants can use it, which is why beans are a good source of protein. The farts are just the bonus prize. The moral of this little side avenue is that nitrogen, for all the other magnificent compounds it makes, really just wants to bind with itself and hang out in the atmosphere. That's why nitrogen compounds make such wonderful explosives.

You'll notice the Purple Haze that hangs in the air after the detonations. That's the iodine from the explosive returning to its more stable and happy state of diatomic iodine, or I2. Since iodine is such a huge effing atom (trust me, it's huge in Atomic World), it tends to make easily-broken bonds, which is why the nitrogen can be freed so easily and readily. The net result of those easily-broken bonds is those pieces of filter paper totally being blown up!

The other cool part is that the crystals are a deep purple, most likely thanks to the influence of the iodine floating around in it. In comparison to all the stuff I make, which is either a white solid or an off-white solid or--sometimes!--a yellow solid, it's nice to see the elements from the right hand side of the periodic table (where all the druggies hang out) that can form up into some purty colors.

16 comments:

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Those chemicals from the wrong side of the table have all the good shit.

Chemgeek said...

Cool. I'm going to go make some of this myself.

LiLu said...

Hmm... the 4th of July IS coming up, after all...

Some Guy said...

Awesome.

BeckEye said...

Totally blowing shit up is cool, but I like totally cracking up. And Jesus saving the party did it for me.

dg said...

I bet your favorite commercial in the whole wide world is that Fios Commercial for Verizon - the one with Michael Bay, the director of Transformers, who likes things to be AWESOME, and he totally blows shit up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiHsxQJ9ZOo

I know I love that commercial, but for completely different reasons. I happen to think that Michael Bay is hot.

Gwen said...

This makes me want to party with chemists. Do you know any from the other side of the table? Bring them, too.

Frank said...

So that's why high school chemistry was so boring...too much paper work and not enough explosions...

Eric said...

Thanks for sharing this one. My chemistry teacher in high school enjoyed blowing things up with us.
He actually had a bottle of T4T he said...

Nej said...

In his dorm keyhole. Perfect!!!!!

Scope said...

Just leave a big glob of that in the hallway, and wait for the 87 year old janitor to hit it with a broom.

Chemgeek said...

I believe the classical use of said explosive agent is on a toilet seat.

Poopus interuptus!!!

Soda and Candy said...

I think this is my favorite blowing up so far.

Where can you get this stuff, I need to paint some keyholes...

; )

mylittlebecky said...

ooo feathers! i wanna blow stuff up as well!

Del-V said...

Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays is my favorite thing about Tuesdays... except for double-shots of Journey from Two-fer-Tuesdays on my local classic rock station.

Fancy Schmancy said...

You chemistry majors really know how to bring it!