Chunk of gallium melts in your hand

A cool addition to my growing cabinet of curiosities.

Nitrogen triiodide: "So volatile that a mosquito landing on it will make it explode"


The Royal Institution posted this demonstration of an explosively unstable substance called nitrogen triiodide. I love the purple smoke it makes.

Nitrogen triiodide is so unstable that even something like a mosquito landing on it can set it off. Three iodine atoms cluster around one side of a nitrogen atom. Being crowded around one end causes something called bond strain as the atoms repel each other in a small space. The result is that the molecule is prone to falling apart, explosively.

[via] Read the rest

What happens when you dip a light bulb in hydrofluoric acid?

"Hydrofluoric acid is probably the most feared chemical compound that there is," says Sir Martyn Poliakoff, a chemistry professor at the University if Nottingham. "The reason it's so feared is that it is very corrosive. It will burn through human skin, even quite a small exposure on your skin can cause a heart attack."

Hydrofluoric acid will also burn through glass. Naturally, the first thing you should do once you obtain some is immerse a lit incandescent bulb into a beaker of it. Read the rest

WATCH: Sugar in liquid nitrogen glows when exposed to UV light

Mikhail Svarichevsky demonstrates an interesting phenomenon: supercooled sugarcubes briefly glow green when exposed to UV light. Don't tell Insane Clown Posse about this baffling miracle. Read the rest

Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything

In 2009, Theodore Gray blew minds with his gorgeously photographed book, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, which sold over a million copies. Five years later, Gray has created this book, which describes what happens when elements are snapped together to make molecules, and the result is a masterpiece (thanks in no small part to Nick Mann’s drool-inducing photographs). Gray organizes the book by categories of molecules — inorganic, organic, acids, bases, soaps, solvents, oils, sweeteners, and other common substances — highlighting their similarities and differences. Suddenly, the physical world makes a lot more sense.

Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything by Theodore Gray (Author), Nick Mann (Photographer) 2014, 240 pages, 10.25 x 9.5 x 1 inches, Hardcover

Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

article {max-width:1000px} Read the rest

DIY alchemy

Written by three science instructors, The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung, How Chemistry Was Forged" is a combination weird science history and DIY projects book. Read the rest

Explosive reaction of sodium in a pond

These young folks have a lot of fun throwing a big hunk of sodium into a pond. If you're impatient, forward to the boom at :53. Read the rest

$5 programmable chemistry set inspired by music box

Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash and his colleagues devised a $5 "chemistry set" that can be programmed to mix various reactants by punching holes in a paper tape and feeding it through the handheld device. Prakash says he was inspired by a hand-cranked music box. This latest device for what Prakash calls "frugal science" is on the heels of his amazing 50-cent folding microscope that I blogged previously.

"Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries" (SCOPE) Read the rest

HOWTO season a cast-iron pan -- with SCIENCE

Sheryl Canter's post on the science of cast-iron pan seasoning is a fascinating and practical tale of flaxseed and kitchen chemistry. It's a long process -- you need to season the pan six or so times, each time taking a couple of hours -- but the science is sound and the proof is in the hard, nonstick coating your pan will have when you're done. Read the rest

Preventing pigsplosions

The bad news: Massive piles of pig manure are foaming up and then exploding and nobody is really sure why. The worse news: The only solution (other than, you know, not raising so many pigs all together) is to feed the pigs more antibiotics — a practice that contributes to antibiotic resistance. Read the rest

Why do dog farts stink so bad?

Because puppies are filled with love ... and also hydrogen sulfide. Read the rest

Building a better soy burger

Mother Jones has an interesting story about several start-ups trying to create fake meat, dairy, and eggs that are not only sustainable, but appetizing ... even to people who aren't already committed vegans. It's a story about business and ethics, but it's also a story about chemistry and food engineering. As a meat eater who does enjoy seitan, I'm intrigued. Read the rest

Polonium-210: A pretty good way to horribly murder somebody

Last week, a Swiss investigation found evidence to support the idea that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with polonium-210 — a radioactive element that's safe to carry around in a container, but causes unstoppable death if swallowed. NPR sat down with Deborah Blum, a science writer who specializes in the chemistry of poisonings, to talk about what makes polonium-210 a particularly handy way to off somebody and why it's so hard to bring a polonium poisoner to justice. Read the rest

A mysterious form of water with unique chemical properties

In the 1960s, Russian scientists discovered a new form of water that congealed at room temperature, froze at -40, and wouldn't boil no matter the temperature. For a few brief years, "polywater" was a scientific rage — the subject of pop culture craziness, Cold War research races, and CIA interrogations. At Slate, Joseph Stromberg tells the story of polywater and explains why, despite all that hype, most of us have never heard of it today. Read the rest

How scientists created an element

The synthetic (or man-made) elements are the ones with silly-sounding names, found along the bottom of the periodic table — Einsteinium and Nobelium, Livermorium and Mendelevium, and more. Unlike the rest of the elements, you won't find them just hanging out in nature. They have to be created in a laboratory, and they only exist for a limited amount of time — some no more than milliseconds. Though new ones have been discovered/created as recently as 2010, the 1950s and 60s were sort of a heyday of synthetic elements, with different laboratories locked in a race to find the niftiest new things first.

During that time, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab made a film strip reenacting their own 1955 discovery of the element Mendelevium. The film lay forgotten in storage for 60 years until it was recently uncovered and restored by retired physicist Claude Lyneis. Originally just a silent sequence showing real Mendelevium discoverers Al Ghiorso, Bernard Harvey, Gregory Choppin, and Stanley Thompson demonstrating how they'd found the 101st element, the film has been updated with narration and sound effects and is a pretty cool explanation of where synthetic elements come from.

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