Don't Put Your Dry Ice In The Thermos, Mrs Worthington
April 26, 2015 2:11 PM   Subscribe

While you were out, your childminders have been entertaining your offspring with dry ice experiments. You're that sort of parent, with those sorts of friends. On your return, you discover that this has gone down very well with junior, and that there's some solid CO2 left over. What could be better than to continue the science fun in the morning? All you have to do is keep the stuff cool overnight. Simple enough? Perhaps not. (Previously)
posted by Devonian (65 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 


He is a cool dad. Wish my pops had let us fool around with dry ice. I did get a sip of his ice beer once.
posted by AugustWest at 2:22 PM on April 26, 2015


The other big run in London this morning

Those outside England may not get this reference: today was the London Marathon. The connotation need not be expanded upon.
posted by Thing at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh man, what a hilariously terrible idea. Never put dry ice or liquid nitrogen in sealed containers, kids. Always leave a vent hole, and make sure it's big enough that it won't ice over and get plugged. Otherwise you'll end up with a time bomb, like this guy. A time bomb set for a random time, with no way of knowing how far in the future that time might be, or of disarming it for that matter. Not something you want to have to deal with.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Might have used something less shrapnelous than kitchen tiles to weigh it down…
posted by El Mariachi at 2:49 PM on April 26, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm more amazed that he didn't wind up arrested on suspicion of terrorism, what with the whole dumping a suspicious package into a canal followed by bubble explosion thing. I mean, he literally did carry a bomb down the street and put it into the canal in front of a crowd of witnesses.
posted by zachlipton at 2:56 PM on April 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


Put it in a styrofoam beer cooler next time. Not air-tight and harmless shrapnel in any case...
posted by jim in austin at 2:59 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Here in 'merica, there would be no problem. You just put out out in the back 40, step back, and plink at it with your pistol until it explodes.
posted by happyroach at 2:59 PM on April 26, 2015 [16 favorites]


So a friend of mine (a fireman, no less) was a props person for a soap opera. That day there was a dry ice effect, and when that was the case it wasn't uncommon to have 20 or more pounds of dry ice on a pallet in the loading dock, even if the effect was needed for just one item on the rundown.

This gent was not known for his restraint, and even though he was only approaching middle age the crew could seemingly tell two lifetimes worth of stories about his shenanigans.

On this particular day, he decided that it would be funny to throw some dry ice and water into a 3 liter soda bottle and tighten the cap down as best he could before closing the door to the prop room. The studio is on the third floor, and after the explosion people were running up from the basement to find out what the hell had happened.

What had happened was that the entire drop ceiling had fallen, much of the glassware in the room was destroyed along with the tv and vcr in the corner and taping was disrupted for a bit. It was an unholy mess, and no one got fired merely because everyone was so amazed that no one really asked too many questions.

To this day the guys on that crew who are still working talk about the day B singlehandedly got them a whole new prop room.
posted by nevercalm at 3:00 PM on April 26, 2015 [40 favorites]


Oh, and that was in the late 80s, so no terrorism charges....
posted by nevercalm at 3:01 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


That was great, thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:33 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm more amazed that he didn't wind up arrested on suspicion of terrorism, what with the whole dumping a suspicious package into a canal followed by bubble explosion thing. I mean, he literally did carry a bomb down the street and put it into the canal in front of a crowd of witnesses.

White privilege in action?
posted by Talez at 3:42 PM on April 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Should have gone to the nearest hospital and asked for a bucket of liquid nitrogen to cool the thermos down. Wait a couple of hours, then open it up _very_ carefully.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:47 PM on April 26, 2015


White privilege? Well, he is white - but I don't think he looks like a bastion of privilege. Besides, there's always a bunch of weird stuff going on along the canal at the weekend. The only terrorists are the swans.
posted by Devonian at 3:51 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well now I'm curious about the expansion of dry ice in something a little sturdier - PVC, or metal pipe, or something. I suspect this is a curiosity that it would be a bad idea to sate.
posted by kafziel at 3:59 PM on April 26, 2015


Also a bad idea to sTate, I imagine. Knock on the door in 3....2......
posted by nevercalm at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2015


happyroach: "Here in 'merica, there would be no problem. You just put out out in the back 40, step back, and plink at it with your pistol until it explodes."

Um, brb, buying pistol

I may have finally found a use for my Second Amendment rights!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:20 PM on April 26, 2015


If it was going to explode, it probably would have done so within the first couple hours. Also, if you are worried about something like that exploding, roll it in as many blankets as you can and put it in the bathtub.
posted by 445supermag at 4:28 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Should have gone to the nearest hospital and asked for a bucket of liquid nitrogen to cool the thermos down. Wait a couple of hours, then open it up _very_ carefully.

Sure. Just get a great big thermos to hold the smaller thermos and the liquid nitrogen, then seal that one up nice and tight so it doesn't boil. Oh wait...
posted by zachlipton at 4:36 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


445supermag: Nope, wrong. I've left chunks of dry ice around overnight before, in a syrofoam shipping container. Was still there the next morning.
posted by Canageek at 4:38 PM on April 26, 2015


I suspect this is a curiosity that it would be a bad idea to sate.

Nothing wrong with satisfying that curiosity theoretically, using math!
posted by JauntyFedora at 4:46 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've left chunks of dry ice around overnight before, in a syrofoam shipping container. Was still there the next morning.

Very little has to sublimate to over pressure a thermos.
posted by 445supermag at 4:48 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sure. Just get a great big thermos to hold the smaller thermos and the liquid nitrogen, then seal that one up nice and tight so it doesn't boil. Oh wait...

Then the big thermos goes in a sealed vat of liquid helium. It's thermoses all the way down.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:53 PM on April 26, 2015 [24 favorites]


I grew up in the late 50's and early 60's. There was still an icehouse in town. A place that still sold *huge* blocks of ice. They also sold dry ice. They sold dry ice to anybody with the money. Even a bunch of 10-14 year old boys. Man did we have fun with little blocks of dry ice. But then, when I look back on some of the shit we did, I'm kind of surprised none of us were seriously injured.
posted by jgaiser at 5:08 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Once at work someone brought in an ice cream cake packed in dry ice. There was a styrofoam coffee cup on the table half full of water. Somebody put a piece of dry ice half the size of your thumb in it. Loads of fog emerged. Then a faint squealing started. It got louder and louder and then BANG something in the cup exploded and water flew out. No danger. We were just really surprised. Supposedly when you put dry ice in water, water ice can form around the dry ice. Then the dry ice sublimates to gas and explodes the water ice encasing it. Ah, science...
posted by njohnson23 at 5:17 PM on April 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


A kid in college swallowed liquid nitrogen, thinking he would be able to blow some smoke rings and impress others at the Physics Club Ice Cream Social. It didn't work out that way.

When you swallow anything, your epiglottis closes; in Mazur's case it kept the nitrogen, now a gas, from escaping and forced it into his body. As a result, his entire gastrointestinal tract was scarred, burned and perforated, one of his lungs collapsed because of pressure within his chest cavity from the expanding gas, and part of his stomach had to be removed.
posted by Seppaku at 5:23 PM on April 26, 2015 [14 favorites]


Reminds me of the time my dad brought home the canister of ammonium hydroxide (from the toxicology lab at work) to convince a skunk, then making a home under the back deck, that it would be wise not to return.

I remember the canister was plastered with a bunch of WHMIS stickers advising, via pictograms, that a terrible fate would befall you should you tamper with the chemical lying within.

As an adult, I'm keenly aware that my dad's opening salvo in pretty much any dispute, human or animal, has always been a scorched-earth tactic or one sort or another.

And no, the skunk didn't come back.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:41 PM on April 26, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think Frank Capra related a similar story: he got this great idea of having his actors use little wire cages with dry ice inside so that their breath would "puff" in the "cold." One actor got sick of this and just popped the dry ice in his mouth. The actor lost teeth and part of his jawbone. He kept performing, though.
posted by SPrintF at 5:44 PM on April 26, 2015


+1 for the Noel Coward reference.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:45 PM on April 26, 2015


+1 for the Noel Coward reference.
posted by wittgenstein


Not surprising, really.
posted by nevercalm at 5:57 PM on April 26, 2015


A kid in college swallowed liquid nitrogen, thinking he would be able to blow some smoke rings and impress others at the Physics Club Ice Cream Social. It didn't work out that way.

When you swallow anything, your epiglottis closes; in Mazur's case it kept the nitrogen, now a gas, from escaping and forced it into his body. As a result, his entire gastrointestinal tract was scarred, burned and perforated, one of his lungs collapsed because of pressure within his chest cavity from the expanding gas, and part of his stomach had to be removed.
posted by Seppaku at 8:23 PM on April 26 [1 favorite +] [!]


I was going to say this was eponyhorrible, but only because I initally read Seppaku's username as "Seppuku."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:12 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seppaku, I guess we are classmates, because I instantly recognized your story. I heard a bit of a different version though because the press release you link mentions that drinking the liq N2, without swallowing, was a common stunt according to the head of the WPI physics department. What?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:25 PM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I grew up in the late 50's and early 60's. There was still an icehouse in town. A place that still sold *huge* blocks of ice. They also sold dry ice. They sold dry ice to anybody with the money. Even a bunch of 10-14 year old boys. Man did we have fun with little blocks of dry ice. But then, when I look back on some of the shit we did, I'm kind of surprised none of us were seriously injured.

This is exactly the kind of shit me and my friends did in the early 2000s even. We had mopeds, fireworks, and just generally lots of stupid to go around.

You can make a pretty big explosion with even just baking soda and vinegar or mentos and diet coke and a mostly empty 2 liter bottle. Throw some in, quickly screw it on, throw it behind or inside something.... carnage.

Spent plenty of time riding around central seattle on a rickshaw doing stupid shit like that. Managed to blow a chunk of the sidewalk out once even(it was already cracked, but who knows where the hell that maybe 8x6 chunk of cement went).

My solution then, and probably even now to this realization would be to throw it in a big metal wheelie dumpster/bin(the large kinds the trucks pick up with the double fork) and watch from 20 feet away or so. Worst that can happen is the lid blows open, and maybe some garbage flies around.

You'll also get the side effect of the dumpster acting like a megaphone, and making that little pop/bang loud enough to set off car alarms in the entire neighborhood.
posted by emptythought at 6:34 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Should have gone to the nearest hospital and asked for a bucket of liquid nitrogen to cool the thermos down. Wait a couple of hours, then open it up _very_ carefully.

The Thermos lid has a rubber stopper.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:43 PM on April 26, 2015


Where does one even get such as liquid nitrogen? Or dry ice, even?
posted by kafziel at 6:52 PM on April 26, 2015


because the press release you link mentions that drinking the liq N2, without swallowing, was a common stunt according to the head of the WPI physics department. What?

Well, like the student explains in the link, you can touch liquid nitrogen (never heard of anyone doing it by putting it in their mouth, but I've definitely seen the "stick your hand in" variant) without injury, because a cushion of gas will form around your hand and insulate liquid and hand from one another. Dude would've been fine had he not swallowed.
posted by kagredon at 6:55 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


If I was a consumer-grade thermos designer, I would design it, for liability reasons, to fail at a pretty low pressure from the inside--maybe twice what you'd expect a carbonated beverage to produce? I'd be a bit shocked if that's not how they're made, but who knows.
posted by maxwelton at 6:56 PM on April 26, 2015


They sell dry ice at the grocery store here now.

What most likely happened to the OP is that the dry ice sublimated enough to jam and maybe ice over the thermos top, but not nearly enough to blow it. It is a thermos bottle after all. So it was probably at 3-5 atm, not the 100 atm of full gasification. The heat sink and water pressure of the canal bath probably loosened the seal, allowing the gas to escape without an explosion.
posted by localroger at 6:59 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


Tandem Affinity, I've seen it done as "pour liquid nitrogen into mouth and then let it skitter back off your tongue into the cup," which worked fine, for a very small amount of the stuff. Still didn't want to try it myself, though.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:00 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Where does one even get such as liquid nitrogen? Or dry ice, even?

LN2: Wherever you get your other compressed gases. You've probably followed a truck full of maybe empty maybe not cannisters down the highway at some point. Barring whatever permitting and investment in a dewer that requires, one steals it from a lab one or one's friends have access to.

dry ice: Just google to find out who sells it near you. It's not even all that expensive. We bought 40 lbs of it for rush one year in college just to play with. When we got bored, we walked it down to the chapel moat (it's a weird looking chapel, OK?) and dumped it in there, earning us some cred with the cool kids. (This is bad for chapel moats and other concrete fixtures, though, so you probably should not go dumping dry ice in fountains and the like)

Also, the best way to play with dry ice is to dump in a plastic bin full of soapy water and enjoy giant bubbles bursting into fog.
posted by maryr at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Y'know, for science.
posted by maryr at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


@happyroach: "Here in 'merica, there would be no problem. You just put out out in the back 40, step back, and plink at it with your pistol until it explodes."

That certainly sounds like a Texas solution.
posted by key_of_z at 11:11 PM on April 26, 2015


Then the big thermos goes in a sealed vat of liquid helium. It's thermoses all the way down.

Worked out fine for Neo-Tokyo.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:39 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


We use to put pieces in 1 liter plastic soda bottles with a little water, and play "Hot Potato" soccer.

The goal was mostly to keep it away from you. It would seldom take more than 3 min to explode.
We wore heavy boots after one person had their big toe badly bruised when the cap blew off when he kicked it.
I also had a bit of a thrill when I discovered a unexploded bottle a couple of hrs after a session and rolled it with the bottom of my foot to see if it was under pressure, it was and it blew up like a M80 and the bottom of my foot was numb for about half an hr.
posted by boilermonster at 11:52 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


re acquiring liquid nitrogen: I've taken a cooler full of Thermos™ bottles to the local welding gases place a number of times. They're more than happy to fill 'em up with liquid nitrogen (although they do tend to ask a few questions to verify that I'm not a total yahoo).

Great stuff for making ice cream with kids, or launching water cooler bottles as water rockets.

I've done the pressurized two liter soda bottle thing, though usually with a bike pump so I can control the pressure (blowing up a trash can with one, for the second time...), it's amazingly loud and has a lot of energy if you contain it, but like maxwelton, I'm pretty sure that the Thermos™ stoppers on the bottles I've got don't hold that much pressure, and really aren't all that gas proof. Put it in something that'll deflect the shrapnel upwards, or wrap it in blankets. wait a day or two, put on a face shield and some heavy clothing and gloves, and unscrew them open. No biggie.
posted by straw at 4:07 AM on April 27, 2015


There's a divot in my childhood kitchen wall from a liquid nitrogen thermos failure. I seem to recall it wasn't the top that blew off but rather a failure at the bottom that rocketed the glass out. Very messy cleanup and we couldn't go barefoot in the kitchen for a while.
posted by whuppy at 4:18 AM on April 27, 2015


One of my stupid human tricks is to put dry ice in my mouth and breathe "smoke" out of my mouth and nose. I is fairly safe (depending on your definition of safe) as long as you have some water in your mouth, otherwise you will get frostbite inside your mouth. I wouldn't mess around with liquid N2 at all though other than to spill it on the ground.
posted by koolkat at 5:41 AM on April 27, 2015


I've done the Leidenfrost effect hand trick in LN2 as part of a university Chemistry Christmas lecture. The main thing to be careful of is your hand must be clean and dry, with nothing on it, like rings or bandages. And you only have a split second of safety. Still, I've done it a few dozen times with no harm.
posted by bonehead at 7:52 AM on April 27, 2015


Well, that's one way to handless the situation.
posted by Oyéah at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2015


Lots of people have blown up lots of stuff, either inadvertently or intentionally, through ill-advised meddling with cryogenics.

The January '06 Incident (and it deserves that capital letter) at Texas A&M takes the cake, though.
posted by sourcequench at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the article: Quick calculation in my head - dry expands by about 850 times when it turns to gas. based on the amount I put in, and the size of the flask, that's going to be roughly a hundred atmospheres when it all sublimes.

Nope, because — if the thermos is airtight and can withstand that much pressure — it won't all sublime. Eventually it will reach equilibrium at the vapor pressure of CO2 along with the solid (or likely, liquid, if it's warm enough) and the pressure wouldn't rise above that, except inasmuch as the vapor pressure changes with temperature. The vapor pressure of carbon dioxide at room temperature is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 atm. Nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but not "roughly a hundred atmospheres" either.

Much like in a pressure cooker the water doesn't all turn to steam just because you get it above 100°C.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:24 AM on April 27, 2015


I'm gonna say that even a factor of two qualifies as "roughly" when the design value is 2% of the actual load...
posted by straw at 10:53 AM on April 27, 2015


A UK girl was seriously injured drinking some sort of liquid nitrogen cocktail in 2012. It was all over the news.

But I like this minus batguy. And his hair. Sweet, and like the good old days of livejournal.
posted by glasseyes at 11:14 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was very much into bomb-making as a child, and I seem to remember one recipe for a (relatively innocuous) dry ice bomb. Never tried it, though.
posted by sudon't at 12:07 PM on April 27, 2015


I went to college in New Orleans in 89-90, and this was a constant amusement at the geology department. 2 liter bottle, pour in liquid nitrogen, seal and put on back dock. Wait... and boom!

It got so that the campus police didn't even bother to come by and bug us about it :)
posted by Ambient Echo at 1:13 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a nut-bar prof who would occasionally try to "drink" LN2, doing the Leidenfrost thing on his tongue. He'd apparently cracked at least one tooth that way though.
posted by bonehead at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2015


Eh, why not put the thermos back into the freezer, let it come to equilibrium temperature, and then safely remove the lid?
posted by Sunburnt at 9:48 PM on April 27, 2015


Because unless you have a specialty freezer, the temperature is likely well above the sublimation point of CO2, so now you have an exploding thermos in your freezer.
posted by kagredon at 12:28 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, the internet is a small place.
I know this guy, got drunk with him.
Didn't know he had kids.

Science is amazing.
posted by Mezentian at 2:44 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dry ice is somewhere around -55C. Your standard home freezer is about -20C.

(I know dry ice is around -55C because if your -80C freezer dies, you wait until it goes above -60C before adding dry ice as a holdover measure while you make your lab manager call the freezer people in a panic.)

Edit: Apparently I lied, Google says dry ice is -79C. Shrug. Definitely doesn't keep a freezer at -80C, that's all I know.
posted by maryr at 8:49 AM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I came back from vacation to find an Odwalla juice container in the fridge swollen spherical. I put on a thick leather jacket backwards with safety glasses. I gingerly picked it up with a tennis racket and dropped it out the window. When it exploded it sent a thin strip of juice onto the building next door, rising across all six stories, and headed up from there.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:23 PM on April 28, 2015


How do you pick something up with a tennis racket?
posted by deludingmyself at 7:34 AM on April 29, 2015


Carefully.
posted by maryr at 7:37 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Kagredon and deludingmyself, just to clarify, my shock wasnt over these stunts happening or how to perform; it was over how they seemed sanctioned by the professor. The same guy who should write you up for doing such a thing in the lab. Is it somehow safer on the quad or the parking lot? I would think a professor's sanctioning of things like this would have been a huge liability to the university. Why are students in the lab required to wear full ppe to handle liquid n2 and dry ice, but those outside the building are allowed to put it in their mouth?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:12 PM on May 3, 2015


you don't spend a lot of time around science departments i take it
posted by kagredon at 11:50 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older The International Journal of Proof of Concept or...   |   The eeriness of the English countryside Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments