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Inspirational Reads

Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays: The Power of Sublimation

July 14, 2009

Remember how, whenever the criminal du jour needed to add that creepy effect to his fake ghost story, the villain from Scooby-Doo would always employ dry ice and water to create his ghostly fog. I think Scooby even made some donuts out of the dry ice fog once. Mmmm...carbon dioxide. So tasty.

I guess if you're a stoner and a dog--stone dog--then when the munchies hit, you have to respond, right?

When I was a lad, I remember my mother helping to make a parade for a float in the parade for our local festival. They needed to create a smoky effect coming out of a pot. For some strange reason, with all the papier mache, streamers and tissue all mounted onto a particle board frame with a tractor pulling it unsteadily down the road, they shied away from using actual fire. So, they opted for dry ice in water. I remember seeing the result--a few wisps of smoke-like vapor escaping the top of the cauldron--and being completely underwhelmed.

I've since learned that, if one wants a really good fog effect from dry ice, isopropyl alcohol--otherwise known as "rubbing alcohol"--gives a great plume of foggy carbon dioxide. So, there you go. In case you find yourself working on a float in the near future and you need a good, boiling plume of fog, drop some chunks of dry ice into rubbing alcohol. Just be sure to recharge the alcohol from time to time, because as it gets colder, the effect cools a bit. Heh. Pun.

Dry ice--which is frozen carbon dioxide--undergoes one of those rare phase shifts from solid to gas, called sublimation. Most of the time, we think of solids turning liquid first and then going to gas, but some things go straight from their solid form to their gas phase. Snow will do this sometimes in the winter, as well. The net result of the sublimation of dry ice to carbon dioxide gas is the nice fog effect.

We can also harvest the awesome power of the sublimation explosively. Don't believe me? Take a look.

For some reason, seeing that cinder block get blown to gravel really amused me. I think part of it is because I went to undergrad with this guy named Seville that someone once described as having "a personality like a cinder block." The damnedest thing was, that description was dead accurate.

Walking monoliths aside, I have to say I'm pretty impressed with the power that this showed. If I were to guess, I would have thought that the force would escape up and away from the block where the bottle was not holding it. Shows what I know about explosive forces.

Now, I'm not telling you to go out and try this stunt at home, but after watching this, I would make damned sure that the dry ice bomb doesn't go off in your hand. Otherwise, you might be getting the Tyr experience without all the fun of tricking Fenrir.

See what I did there? Brilliant, no? I thought so, too.


Scope said...

I remember seeing some videos like this where they put the caps on loosely, and then when the pressure built, slammed them on the ground, causing them to take off like seriously misguided missiles.

"Unguided?" No, when you put yourself and your car and your parent's house in the path of one of those things, "misguided" is the better word. Also insert "AWESOME" if you will.

Cowguy said...

Huh huh... blowed 'em up real gud.

I L.O.V.E. seeing things asplode.

Chemgeek said...


Jules said...

You boys and your blowing things up.......

Eric said...

So that's where the word 'sublime' comes from... Nice, I can't wait to use the Isopropyl tip to get to work on my new rock video.

No really, it is a video about igneous rocks.

Cooper Green said...

Oh great, now all the extremists will be running out to 7-11 to buy root beer and rubbing alcohol and dry ice.

Candy's daily Dandy said...


I love it when that happens!!!!

I am a Halloween LOVER and have occasionally used dry ice to set the mood for a soiree or two. I cannot wait to use that jolly little tip this October. Thanks to Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays and Mr. Mjenks...

and im giggling at Cowguy..heee hee

TishTash said...

Thanks for the lesson, Teach. Follow up can I harness the awesome 'sploding power of sublimation to blow up my computer so the IT guys will set me up with one that actually works?

mo.stoneskin said...

*wanders home to fill house with fake smoke. Wonders if wife and baby will mind*

Lostinspace said...

Damn! I never thought of blowing up stuff with dry ice. How did that escape my dangerous youth? My mom used to get freezer-full meat orders sent from a butcher packed in dry ice. Delivery days were eagerly awaited.

JennyMac said...

it doesn't change from about age 2 until the end of time, does it? Men like the big Ka-BOOOOM.

Lana said...

i'm going to watch the all-star game and make one of those cinder-bombs right now!

Fancy Schmancy said...

I've only used dry ice to make a cauldron of grain alcohol, ginger ale and sherbet bubble and foam and smoke at Halloween parties before. Believe me when I say I've seen explosive results from that before! But now I'm thinking I might have to try something new! Thanks!

BeckEye said...

I've had a few Halloween parties and always wanted to get a bunch of dry ice for each one, but never did. I feel like I've really missed out on something.

Well, there's always this year!

Nej said...

That trick might get me out of work for an afternoon, at least, right? A little smokey looking air in the office, everyone thinks it's fire.


Mr. Condescending said...

How bout doing a post on mentos with diet coke!

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Scope: Yeah, it's awesome. Until somebody loses a hand. Or has to pay for a huge plate glass window.

My boss has a story about blasting 20 oz bottles in this same manner, which made it sound like a gun battle, apparently. It caused the campus police at Penn State to investigate.

@ Cowguy: I liked the slow motion they used. Seeing large chunks of cinder blocks flying at you is pretty impressive.

@ Chemgeek: Indeed. And here I thought that putting dry ice in a balloon and letting it scare the hell out of the women in the lab was enough fun.

@ Jules: I'll have you know, plenty of girls like this little feature to. *gets defensive*

@ Eric: Actually, 'sublime' comes from the stuff found under a specific citrus fruit.

Har har har.

Oh, and if you use isopropanol, be very careful of touching the container. Use something plastic, because isopropanol and dry ice get down to -80 degrees Celsius, which will give you some serious frostbite.

@ Cooper Green: And, if they're dumb, they'll get frostbite and fall into thousands of pieces, like the T-1000.

@ Candy: Let me reiterate that dry ice and isopropanol get very, very cold. It will break non-tempered glass. Use a plastic bucket and be careful when handling the solution.

@ Tish: I'd say a 20 oz bottle and tuck it inside the box. Or set it up beside it and run like hell.

@ Mo Just remember it's carbon dioxide vapour. Also remember that pure CO2 is heavier than "air". So, anyone on the ground might not appreciate it so much.

@ Lostinspace: Popping balloons with dry ice was a very common grad school prank. I never thought to seal it in anything that could be destructive, though.

@ JennyMac: Like I told Jules, plenty of girls dig this, too. *stays defensive*

@ Lana: Thank you for making my point. Whee! *defensiveness subsides*

@ Fancy: Was the taste off? The carbon dioxide given off does dissolve into the solution a little bit, and can make carbonic salts. After you said this, I was wondering if it affected the flavor.

@ Beckeye: Like I've said several times before, just remember that dry ice is cold and that other solvents don't freeze up quite like water does.

@ Nej: Don't forget the concussive bang that precedes the smoky air.

@ Mr. C: For you...I'll strongly consider it.