Liquid oxygen is cold enough to condense the water vapor around it and form ice. At negative 190 degrees Celsius, contact with the fluid can give you frostbite more or less instantaneously. But throw some iron wool into a bubbling cauldron of the stuff and it’ll burn like it’s been lit with a blowtorch. What’s going on there?
In the video above from Periodic Videos, Professor Martyn Poliakoff explains how liquid oxygen can make pretty much everything flammable. To burn something, you need fuel, oxygen, and heat. Liquid oxygen, even though it is so incredibly cold, both provides oxygen and lowers the amount of heat you need to ignite the fuel. So with only a few sparks coming off iron wool, you get an extremely vigorous reaction.
The oxygen is binding with the iron dropped into the cauldron and the exothermic reaction releases enough heat to produce light. Iron fragments sputter off from the wool in a shower of sparks and pool in the bottom of the vessel like a yet-to-be-reanimated T-1000. It’s a sparkler that you definitely want to see but not be anywhere near.
Liquid oxygen looks like fun, but the fluid is incredibly dangerous. It’s famously one of the only things the MythBusters refuse to work with for its tendency to make everything it touches unpredictably flammable and in some cases combustible.
If you want to check out the full reactions in all their glory, watch below:
What do you think? Great sparkler or greatest sparkler? Let us know in the comments below.
Images: Periodic Videos