Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sodium Parties


Reader Mark Acey wrote me with a interesting note regarding fun with sodium. Sodium is a white and chalky in pure form and cuts easily with a knife. Sodium and the other alkali metals haven't been one of my favorite chemical series previously (I've always been partial towards halogens) but this might change my mind, for sodium reacts quite spectacularly with water, per this simple equation:
2Na + 2H2O --> 2Na+ + 2OH- + H2(g)

Here's an excerpt from his note:

I have not perused all of your blog, so don't know if you have noticed/mentioned this site. Suffice to say I'm glad THEY did it and video taped it rather than me (or my son). It makes one wonder when they are standing around this stuff while it's burning, breathing in some of the fumes and thinking aloud "I wonder what the smoke consists of?", while various people (and children?) get in for a close look (while various smoke induced coughs are going on in the background). Also, I wonder if this pretty much debunks the myth of the kid that bought a brick of sodium, rowed out to sea, and was never found again after one large explosion.

It seems that there should have been a number of (large) explosions as the brick shot itself back into the air. The only other thing I could surmise is that if the brick were to be dropped into the ocean unopened (I believe the story goes that it was wrapped in something like wax or wax paper), whereupon a hole is pricked open upon striking some corral or rock or whatever prickly ocean-bottom thing, creating a huge super-heated hydrogen bubble that created a massive single explosion upon entry into the more oxygen-rich atmosphere. But that's just a guess. Perhaps you could try it for your next book - "Fun with Sodium" or "Sodium Isn't Just For Food".


The URL of the page he is referring to is here. It's a really good page and I couldn't help but laugh and cringe at the same time. Anyway, after reading that page, I thought to myself, "hell yes, a sodium party! That's the ticket! I could bring brick of the stuff to my brother's lake cabin and do some sodium based explosive fishing.

So I went online to try and find solid sodium. I couldn't find any on Ebay, but Fisher Scientific sells scientific grade sodium. But it's nearly $300 a pound! That's a lot of dough to invest in a single good explosion, especially since commerical sodium goes for about $40 a pound.

So the sodium party will have to wait. If anyone knows of good deals on solid sodium, lemme know.

10 comments:

Doug said...

Don't forget the classic movie and all time great MST3K episode "The Horror of Party Beach".

http://crow-t-robot.home.mindspring.com/reviews_s08_ep817.html

Fred said...

When my dad was 15 (1963) he was doing biochem research in a lab a UT Memphis. He was given some lab space to do his own experiment, with the caveat that he had to clean out an old chemical cabinet sitting on the bench he was to use. He and a friend of his cleaned out most of the old, corroded chemical bottles and such. In the back was a large glass jar with a 10lb bar of sodium under mineral oil. Realizing that this was a golden opportunity, he and his buddy took it downtown and started walking across the old bridge (not actually open to foot traffic, but they were young and stupid) over the Mississippi. When they were half way across, they dropped the sodium bar into the river. There was a big explosion, and they thought it was cool and loud and started to head back. But, the explosion had launched the bar into the air, and a second or two later, the bar hit the water again and had an equally large fireball and bang. This happened about 6 ot 7 times. They realized that this might continue for a while and draw attention from authorities, so they ran off while the reaction was slowing down. My dad never would let me recreate the experiment...

jeremiah said...

i don't see a link to the site in question, just a link of yours, and to fisher scientific.

can you link to the page with the fuming and the breathing and the coughing?

Poster said...

I didn't see the link to the page your commenter was referring to, but have you seen this:
http://www.theodoregray.com/PeriodicTable/Stories/011.2/index.html

Lots of interesting stuff there!

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Your description of sodium contains a minor error. Metallic sodium is just that--a metal. Looks shiny and reflective.

The 'chalky' appearance is due to the formation of sodium oxide (Na2O) from oxygen exposure, or sodium hydroxide (NaOH) from moisture exposure (humidity in the air).

Biscuit Barrel said...

United Nuclear sells a 30 gram (1 ounce) bar for $25

http://www.unitednuclear.com/chem.htm

Mark said...

Link to smoke inhalation and such: http://www.theodoregray.com/PeriodicTable/Stories/011.2/Videos/SodiumParty08.MOV

Although they seem to have some knowledge of chemistry I would question the inhalation of such fumes, and standing so close to a reaction that they didn't seem to know what the outcome would be (i.e. the intentional burning of a chunk of sodium). Cameras are replaceable.

Mark said...

Link to smoke inhalation and such: http://www.theodoregray.com/PeriodicTable/Stories/011.2/Videos/SodiumParty08.MOV

Although they seem to have some knowledge of chemistry I would question the inhalation of such fumes, and standing so close to a reaction that they didn't seem to know what the outcome would be (i.e. the intentional burning of a chunk of sodium). Cameras are replaceable.

Open trials said...

IIn my 10th grade chem class we were shown a video of a science teacher doing this. Well, I shouldn;t say video. It was old enough that it had clearly been filmed in 16mm.

He had what looked like about a quart sized can of sodium, which he dumped out like dog food into a heavy metallic gauntlet he was wearing and then hurled it into the center of a quarry pond. (which was already quite acidic, he explained, so the OH- would help to neutralize it)

Just as some of your other posters have said, there was an initial massive explosion, which launched the now smaller chunk back into the air, then a series of successively smaller explosions. At one point the chucnk of sodium broke into several pieces, so that there were then multiple explosions from various locations on the water's surface.

tyler said...

yo dude u really dont need to explode a pound at a time. ur right... thats a lot of dough. u can just take a little at a time and throw it. obviously, u wont get as big of an explosion but it could still "catch" some fish lol