Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fun With Liquid Nitrogen

Today we began the second week of our classes. We started off a lab focused on a manual titration to standardize a sodium hydroxide solution. Tomorrow we’ll use this solution to graph the titration curve of the aspirin we synthesized. After the lab we were given a lecture on equilibrium constants which we needed to complete our calculations; although we’d covered this extensively back in AP chemistry it was still useful to be refreshed on the material.

Following the lecture came an uneventful lunch followed by a return to class. We heard a brief seminar on some of the specifics of our calculations before we went outside to have a rather delicious demonstration. Liquid nitrogen can only exist under very cold temperatures of course, so it can be used as a coolant for many things such as, in this case, ice cream. 

Due to the fact that nitrogen is a stable atmospheric gas and evaporates very quickly, pouring it into a mixture of cream and sugar has no effects other than chilling the mixture and causing it to turn into a dessert. Although there wasn’t much in the way of academic value to this demonstration, it was quite a treat especially given that the weather has started to heat up again. 

With the left over sugar from the ice cream we were shown a far less appetizing demonstration. When the sugar is exposed to sulfuric acid it decomposes into water and carbon, causing a massive pillar of carbon to rise from the beaker.

After these demonstrations I met up with the other ILC members and we spent an hour with our regional admissions officer for the school. The man explained a great deal about both the course requirements and the differences between the engineering school and the college.


  1. It was a great day for ice cream - 102 degrees I heard.

  2. Michael,

    I'm glad that you explained about that column of carbon rising out of the beaker. I couldn't tell from the photo what I was seeing. Now that I know I can only say: "way cool".

    The other photos concern me, though. As a former industrial safety officer focusing on worker safety, I'm concerned when I see someone pouring liquid nitrogen from a thermos without wearing the proper gloves, safety glasses and faceshield. His arms are bare and he's allowing the students to be right up there and without wearing the proper safety equipment either.

    Ask yourself what might have happened if the liquid nitrogen had splashed onto any part of the instructor or the students. What if it had splashed into an eye. The damage would be immediate and irreparable

    Safety first, Jamie..