Hot Ice

By Anupum Pant

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For years we’ve been subconsciously conditioned to think of something cool when the word ‘ice’ is heard. But, does ice always has to be cool? How much more interesting, than water-ice, can ice be?

What is it?

The name: Hot ice isn’t solidified water, it isn’t anything even close to water. Neither is hot ice, hot. It is just a common name for Sodium Acetate Trihydrate. At room temperature, this substance looks like ice crystals and if heated, it starts turning into a transparent liquid. Since, the ice like crystals are formed at a relatively hotter temperature than water-ice, it is called hot ice.

Everything freezes. While metals ‘freeze’ at extremely high temperatures and carbon dioxide freezes at extremely low temperature, Sodium acetate freezes at 54 degrees centigrade. But, that is hardly anything interesting about it. There is more.

Touch water and turn it to ice

Think about water: Cooling water, beyond its freezing point without it getting solidified, can be done and it is called ‘super-cooling‘. This can be done by not letting water (distilled water) find any ‘nucleation points’ or simply by using an extremely clean tray to freeze it. Now, water remains in a liquid state despite being cooled under 0 degree centigrade. At such a state, if water is disturbed, say using your finger, a chain reaction starts and the water freezes almost instantly. But, doing it is tough.

Making hot ice at home – The same thing that happens with super-cooled water, can happen with sodium acetate. Touch the liquid sodium acetate and it magically turns to ice, it is indeed a fascinating process to watch (watch in the video below). And can be done fairly easily. Moreover, you are not at a danger of getting poisoned in any way. This is the reason it is used to make hot ice. It can be made at home using vinegar, baking soda and a steel vessel.

Gallium Metal Melts in Your Hands

By Anupum Pant

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Atomic number: 31
Symbol: Ga

At first what seems like an uninteresting material, Gallium, in truth has, much more to it than meets the eye.

Gallium’s melting point

Like most other metals, Gallium is solid at room temperature (or liquid if it is too hot in your room). But, if it is held [in hands] for long enough, it melts in your hands, and doesn’t poison you like Mercury would. This is because of its unusually low melting point of (~29 degree Centigrade). It can melt by drawing heat from a human body which is normally at around 37 degrees.

Buy Gallium: This property, and the affordable price of $24 for 15 grams, probably makes it an appropriate gift for science geeks. They will love making mirrors at home by sticking it onto plain glass sheets.

Talking about a classic prank, it is advised to beware of the scientists who would offer spoons made out of Gallium to unsuspecting guests at a tea party. These spoons melt in hot tea and make it a potentially harmful concoction to ingest.

Since it isn’t poisonous like Mercury, Gallium is often mixed with Indium to further lower its melting point to -19 degrees. This makes it a safer option for us to use in thermometers instead of Mercury.

Interesting uses and compounds

  • Dilute sulphuric acid changes the surface properties of Gallium due to the formation of Gallium Sulfide on the surface. It no longer sticks that badly to glass, gets pulled up into a ball and starts beating like a heart when dichromate is added.
  • 98% of the world’s Gallium metal is used as Gallium Arsenide and Gallium Nitride, used in the electronic industry for making semiconductors, LEDs and high-speed circuits. In fact the laser in your Blu-Ray player is also made using Gallium.
  • Probably the most amount of Gallium used in a single place is at a Neutrino observatory in Russia. It houses around 57 tons of liquid Gallium.
  • With Silicon, Graphite and Molybdenum, Gallium is also used in ski wax to make skis more slippery.
  • Finally, nothing beats a metal that melts in your hands.

That Sweet Scent of Rain

by Anupum Pant

When rain starts falling after a long dry spell, most of us notice a sweet-musky scent around us. Sometimes, it is as if you can smell the rain coming. Have you ever wondered what causes this peculiar smell?

Well, scientists have also wondered the same for a long time and now they have some concrete answers for us. According to them, this evocative scent is a mixture of several individual smells. In essence, there are three factors which combine to form the “petrichor” – The smell of rain.

  1. Bacteria – The best (my favorite) of all the three is caused because of a specific type of bacteria in mud called Actinomycetes. The force, with which the rain water falls, disrupts the bacteria-produced-spores in dry mud, and the moisture present in the air carries them to our noses. Most people love this odor and associate it with rain.
    So, spores of bacteria are responsible for the kind of smell you get, when rain falls on dry mud.
  2. Plant Oils – A blend of oils produced by plants during the dry spell is another main source of this aroma. When it rains, volatile parts of these oils get released into the air. It is the kind of smell you get when you are getting wet in the woods.
  3. Ozone – Another smell associated with the rain, is a minor part of petrichor and it smells like burning wires. This is produced by a reaction caused when lightning strikes, the Nitrogen and Oxygen present in air to form Ozone molecules.

Subjective senses

Besides that, smell is a subjective sensation. That means, you can’t explain a smell to someone, and you can never know what the other person smells. So, it becomes really hard for scientists to communicate to us, which scent is which.

Some of us like the bacteria smell, while others might like the third component of petrichor.

Some like the smell of rain, others don’t. But we’ll never know accurately, if the scent you adore is the same as the one your friend hates. One way to communicate some information about these scents is by comparing them with other popular smells (like I did above). This could probably give you a vague idea, but the exact sensation will remain elusive. It is like trying to explain the color red to a person who’s been blind all his/her life.