Adam Savage inhales sulphur hexafluoride


Inhaling sulphur hexafluoride allows you to channel Penn Jillette, apparently. (via Arbroath)

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  1. I saw the show, and while he said “don’t do this at home” I was a little concerned that he didn’t also say “THIS IS DANGEROUS!” because most people don’t know that it is *much* more dangerous than inhaling helium. Heavier-than-air gases won’t leave your lungs on their own, like helium will, because of gravity.

  2. as a kid, we used to sneak into the fairgrounds after closing and huff nitrous oxide out of those 55-lb. tanks that they used to make whipped cream for the waffle cone place. it had a similar effect on voice. and other curious effects, too.

  3. And that sulfur hexafluoride has an atmospheric lifetime of about 3200 years, with a global warming potential 22,200 times that of carbon dioxide in the 100-year scale.

    A great trick, but it’s at least twice as bad for the ozone layer as the worst of the fluorocarbons used as refrigerants.

  4. So he had to stand on his head after this to get the sulfur hexaflouride out? Or will he just hang out with it for 3200 years?

  5. #5, he can just breathe normally and it will be expelled in a few breaths. Or if he wants it out really quickly, he can do what he did to get rid of the helium: breathe a few times quickly.

  6. @5: Yeah not like it doesn’t go into the lungs, pass into the blood stream kill some Haemoglobin and what not…

  7. i want so badly to see Penn Jillette talk after both those gases. i wonder if he sounds like Adam on the Helium.

  8. Heavier-than-air gases won’t leave your lungs on their own, like helium will, because of gravity.

    The lungs aren’t hooked up right at the top (check out your favorite anatomy text), so helium can get “stuck” at the top and sulphur hexafluoride can get “stuck” at the bottom.

    In reality, over a relatively short period of time, because of mixing caused by turbulence as air moves in and out of the lungs, the residual amount of either gas probably gets reasonably low reasonably quickly.

    At worst, if the sulphur hexafluoride should happen to decompose, I suppose one might worry about the sulphur and fluorine being absorbed. But I doubt the quantities are nearly high enough to cause a problem, or even be more than what one normally gets from eating and drinking.

    On the other hand, intentionally breathing gas without oxygen for any significant period of time can suffocate you, whether it’s helium or SF6. That is nothing to fool around with. :)

  9. #11’s right, the big risk is asphyxiation if you’re breathing something besides oxygen. Well, you might also consider the possibility of contamination of the gas, since it wasn’t intended for breathing in the first place.

    Your lungs are pretty good at mixing gasses. CO2 is heavier than air, too, and if it all just sat there in your lungs, you’d suffocate yourself pretty quickly with your own exhalations.

    That said, you still shouldn’t try it at home. (Says the guy with two tanks of helium in his garage…)

  10. SF6 is an inorganic compound that doesn’t react with most things in the human body. Its primary use is as a dielectric gas, an insulator, and has been used for years in such devices as the Tandem Van de Graaff Linear Accelerator at BNL. Savage could have also demonstrated SF6’s density by tying off the balloon and letting it drop to the floor along with a balloon filled with plain air. It would drop like a rock.

  11. A great trick, but it’s at least twice as bad for the ozone layer as the worst of the fluorocarbons used as refrigerants.

    how is it going to get up there?

  12. OK, I promise I won’t ever try this at home.

    However…

    we do have tanks of this at work…

    just sitting around…

    unattended…

    if you know what I mean…

  13. I think I need to see the rest of the episode now… by the way, am I super boring because I’ve never actually tried the helium thing?

  14. Gee, Tobor@20, that sounds an awful lot like the 160L tank of Liquid Nitrogen in the lab I used to work in…

    (You already took a hit, right?)

  15. Tobor, be sure not to inhale directly from the tank. The force from the nozzle is strong enough to overwhelm your lungs and kill you. Several deaths have been attributed to this stunt already.

  16. If its heavier than air how is it a global warming threat? Wouldn’t it never be able to rise high enough to affect the ozone?

  17. I think the Mythbusters have a great gig, and I am v happy they get paid for doing something fun, and interesting others in make, educate, try.

  18. Screw the sulphur hexafluoride, I want to know where he got that Radiohead shirt that I have personally never seen. Perhaps Xeni can field this one?

  19. Harvey Boing @11:

    On the other hand, intentionally breathing gas without oxygen for any significant period of time can suffocate you, whether it’s helium or SF6.

    Or nitrous oxide, which happens oftener than you’d think.

    In addition, one symptom of getting too much nitrous oxide is nausea. If you’re too far gone from nitrous oxide rapture and hypoxia to turn your head or clear your throat when you vomit, you’ll die of suffocation slightly earlier than you would from nitrous oxide alone.

    MadSci @13:

    you might also consider the possibility of contamination of the gas, since it wasn’t intended for breathing in the first place.

    Just thought I’d emphasize that one. Inhaling odd new things is always a little dicey.

    Kat @22: No. However, as a general rule, audibly worrying about whether something means you’re super boring (a.) can get old fast, and (b.) suggests the idea that you’re boring to hearers who otherwise might not have thought of it.

    ThreeFJeff @24:

    Gee, Tobor@20, that sounds an awful lot like the 160L tank of Liquid Nitrogen in the lab I used to work in…

    (You already took a hit, right?)

    Jefff, would it be all right with you if I added a line to that comment? What I have in mind is something like

    (DO NOT ACTUALLY TRY THIS!)

    PJG @25:

    Tobor, be sure not to inhale directly from the tank. The force from the nozzle is strong enough to overwhelm your lungs and kill you. Several deaths have been attributed to this stunt already.

    Q. Do you think it was suicide?

    A. Gee, I don’t know; but he sure was under a lot of pressure.

  20. Harvey Boing @11:

    At worst, if the sulphur hexafluoride should happen to decompose, I suppose one might worry about the sulphur and fluorine being absorbed.

    Were this to be happening, the poisonous effects to the person who inhaled the gas in the first place would be secondary to the fact that they were being cremated at the time – SF6 needs about 500 degrees C to decompose.

  21. I would think that it’s not actually the density affecting the sound waves directly (ie speakers don’t sound deeper in water which is 784 times denser than air) but the speed at which his vocal chords are vibrating.

    If you allow me to use the same analogy, swimming through water takes many times the force of the same action in air. I think his vocal chords are moving more slowly through the medium of the sulfur hexafluoride, and more quickly through the less dense helium.

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