7 Mind-Blowing Chemical Reactions You Won't Believe Are Real
Chemistry is mind-numbingly boring to most of us. It's like calculus, but with letters where numbers should be. It takes a unique kind of psychopath to get excited about doing math with the alphabet. But put chemistry through a "YouTube" filter, and you get some truly incredible stuff that will surely blow your mind*.
*If you're stoned. If you're sober, you'll probably just say "neat" and then go on to check your bank statement, or whatever it is normal people do with computers.
Hypnotizing Bromic Acid
Dealer out of town? Miss your daily dose of LSD? All you need are two simple substances and a Petri dish to fake your own lava lamp screensaver (or one crusty keyboard and like two spare minutes if you just want to watch it).
Annnnnd five minutes have passed.
According to science, the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction is an "oscillating chemical reaction" during which "transition-metal ions catalyze oxidation of various, usually organic, reductants by bromic acid in acidic water solution," making it possible to "observe development of complex patterns in time and space by naked eye." That's science-speak for "slap some bromine into an acid solution and forge your own chemical Hypnotoad."
The acid turns the bromine into a chemical called bromide (which is a different color and an entirely different letter), but the bromide quickly turns itself back into bromine, because the science elves that live inside of it are stubborn jerks. The reaction then repeats, and you can watch the pattern undulate unto infinity, or at least until you pass out into your bag of ranch flavor Bugles.
Clear Chemicals Instantly Turn Black
Question: What happens when you mix sodium sulfite, citric acid, and sodium iodate? Close, but the right answer isn't "Who gives a shit?" Also, you should really check your attitude at the door to the lab. There is very little room in science for that kind of wanton brusqueness. The correct answer is this:
The chem version of your toilet after Jager night.
When you mix the aforementioned ingredients in certain proportions, you end up with a finicky liquid that starts out transparent, but then turns deep black in an instant. This is handy if you want to observe something called an "iodine clock" reaction, or convince your cousin that he truly is haunted by a Japanese well ghost after watching that YouTube clip you sent him. Put simply, a chemical clock reaction happens when specific compounds are mixed in such a way that their concentration slowly changes. When it passes a certain threshold -- BOOM, you've got Shenanigoats climbing everywhere!
But wait, there's more. By changing the proportion of the ingredients, you can even reverse the reaction:
The chem version of flushing after Jager night.
And, using different ingredients and formulas, like the Briggs-Rauscher variant, you can even get a schizophrenic mixture that constantly switches from blue to yellow. Look, if you need any more than this to convince that primitive village that you're their new wizard-king, we don't know what to tell you. Maybe invest in a quality robe.
OK, if your toilet starts doing this, you may want to seek medical attention.
Creating Plasma in a Microwave
But what if you want to mess with your high roommate and you don't have access to a bunch of obscure chemicals or the basic knowledge needed to mix them safely? Don't despair! Can you get your hands on a grape, a knife, a glass, and a microwave? If not, then we're really sorry the economy turned on you so viciously. If so, cut the grape into two pieces. Then take one of the pieces and slice it in half again, leaving the two quarters connected by the skin. Place it inside the microwave under an upturned glass and turn it on. Then step back and watch aliens abduct a piece of chopped fruit.
What you're actually doing is creating a very small amount of plasma. You probably learned in school that there are three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas), but there's actually a fourth type, the hard-to-define rebel matter called plasma that comes from superheating a gas until it ionizes. Grape juice happens to be rich in ions, so it's one of the better mediums to use if you want to observe some simple science or make some bets and take cruel advantage of your impaired housemates.
As a responsible website, we must remind you to never try this experiment at h- you already went out and bought some grapes, didn't you? Just be careful: The ozone generated inside the glass can be toxic in high quantities. So tell your friends that the microwave needs to recharge its death ray after every use.
Separating Mixed Liquids by Stirring the Other Way
If you stir milk into your coffee, you can't ever get that milk out again. It is gone to you forever, and you will have to live with polluting the purity of that noble beverage. That's just how liquid works, right? You stir something into something else and the two are forever joined. And then there's laminar flow. To see this witchcraft in action, just put a few drops of colored dye into a vat of corn syrup, caaarefuuully stir them up ...
... and then stir it back in the opposite direction at the same pace.
Holy shit, Superman was right.
We know it looks like it, but we swear we didn't just reverse the video there. Laminar flow can happen in all sorts of scenarios with all sorts of liquids, but this dramatic example happens because corn syrup is so viscous that mixing the dye into it twists it up into layers. It's more like stretchy elastic than a fluid. So if you reverse the action exactly, you can reverse the effect, and the dye goes back to where it was. It's like being the crappiest time traveler ever!
Reigniting a Candle Via Its Smoke Trail
Here's a trick you can try at home without the risk of exploding your living room (well, without any more risk than usual; we don't know what your living situation is, Methew McConaughey). Light a candle. Blow it out. Now set fire to the smoke trail. Congratulations: You're a Level 1 firebender.
And you now possess more entertainment value than a $150 million movie.
It turns out that fire just loves itself some candle wax, which you probably knew, because, well ... candles. But it turns out their love is much deeper than you expect. Stalker levels, even: It doesn't matter if the wax is solid, liquid, or gas -- fire will still find it, chase it down, and burn the hell out of it. Notice that the above link is for a basic grade school experiment. Now notice our intense envy, as none of our grade school teachers bothered to tell us about apprentice fire mastery. Man, one little "incident" and suddenly all the cool stuff is off limits forever. We don't know what the big deal even was -- Mrs. Davis' hair grew back. For the most part.
Crystals That Light Up When You Crush Them
This is a chemical called europium tetrakis, demonstrating the effect of triboluminescence. Eyes glazing over yet? Are you daydreaming of puppies already? All right, we'll hype it up some: This is how you create a thunderstorm in a bottle by smashing things.
If you look reeeeeal close, you can see a miniature Christopher Lambert in there.
The effect happens when crystals don't bother to generate electricity or heat, but rather skip a step like the lazy crystal bastards they are and convert kinetic energy directly into light.
If you want to see it for yourself but you don't have any europium tetrakis lying around (if you're out, just ask the neighbor to borrow a cup!), the good news is that another, more common substance can do the same thing: sugar. Just sit in a dark room, put some sugar cubes in a blender, and watch the fireworks.
This is what Daft Punk sees every time they close their eyes.
Back in the 18th century, when many folks still thought scientific phenomena were caused by ghosts or witches or the ghosts of witches, scientists used this effect to prank "simple people" by chewing sugar in the dark and laughing as they scrambled away from the man with the fire-mouth. Although they probably weren't laughing when the simpletons returned with pitchforks and drowned them in a river.
A Hellbeast Emerging from a Volcano
Mercury (II) thiocyanate is an innocuous-looking white powder. It doesn't do much, just sits around doing powder stuff. You know -- piling up, maybe drifting about for a little bit. Then you set it on fire, and it opens a gateway to the Old Ones so that they might escape from their Eternal Tombs.
"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"
It starts out innocently enough, kind of like a slightly bigger version of those lame snake fireworks you give to the littler kids on the Fourth of July. But as the reaction continues, you start to realize it has no intention of stopping, growing into a Lovecraftian tentacle beast that threatens to consume you and, indeed, the world itself:
Have you survived the emergence of mercury thioCthulhu? Has the madness taken root in your mind, and now you want -- nay, must -- light some other powder on fire to appease Those Who Slumber? Try ammonium dichromate: It turns into a miniature volcano, like a slightly turbocharged version of that terrible soggy baking soda one you made in grade school. You know, the one that was so bad, it made Dad stop loving Mom and caused the divorce.
His parents celebrated 33 years last May.
Kind of a letdown, wasn't it? After the creeping madness we showed you earlier, this grade school science fair fare just won't cut it. But we warn you: Don't do it. It's not worth it. It's not worth it to mix the two and light the whole mess on fire. We mean, sure, you'll get a goddamn Balrog sending his flaming whips up from the Ember Dimension ...
We've edited the part where it devours the cameraman's soul.
... but both substances are toxic as hell, and the fumes could do you serious harm. Also, you have literally no contingency plan for taming that Balrog, do you? What are you gonna do, ask him to sit down and play Mario Kart?
Are you? Because that would be awesome.
Daniel has a blog where he often dispenses dubious advice. For a completely different kind of fun with dangerous chemicals, like Jason's Facebook page.
We all have our shameful pleasures. But moreover we all have those shameful pleasures we'll defend to the death. In our latest podcast, Daniel O'Brien hosts Cracked Columnist Soren Bowie and Riot's Liana Maeby to discuss their terrible tastes in pop culture. You can download it here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.
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