Prince Rupert’s Drop – Exploding Glass

By Anupum Pant

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What is it?

At first, a Prince Rupert’s Drop is an interesting yet harmless looking drop of glass with a long tail. It looks like a tadpole: [image]

It is no different from an annoyed person who refuses to let out his resentment – A slightest something might make him explode suddenly, but it isn’t easy to make him let it out. Confused? Read on…

Now, think of a glass drop that has immense amounts of potential energy stored inside it – It explodes (actually implodes) when the tail is disturbed, but it is impossible to hit it hard with a hammer and break it.

How?

A Prince Rupert’s Drop is formed when a drop of molten glass is suddenly dropped into a water bath. This quick cooling, solidifies the surface fast, while the inner part remains molten. Now, glass formed on the surface, being a poor conductor of heat doesn’t allow the inner part to cool quickly. When the inner part starts cooling, it tries to shrink and pulls the surface towards it. As a result, great amount of potential energy gets stored inside, in the form of stresses (stresses are seen using a polarized filter). This stored energy gets released when the tail is disturbed – It explodes into very tiny pieces of glass.

Toughened glass – a stronger variety of glass used in several places – also uses a similar technique to make strengthened glass.

On Wikipedia, a user asked about the possibility of utilizing the energy released from this explosion, being used to fire a bullet from a barrel. An interesting possibility, I must say.

The Name

Prince Rupert of Rhine did not discover the drops, but played a role in bringing them to Britain. He gave them to King Charles II, who in turn delivered them to the Royal Society for scientific study. Prince Rupert’s Drop was a widely known phenomenon among the educated during the 17th century – far more than now.

Watch it being explained better

Probably the best demonstration of this glass drop exploding is right here on the internet. Couple of months back, a YouTuber, Destin (Channel: SmarterEveryDay) posted a video demonstrating the physics behind it. He recorded  the progression of the explosive fracture using a hi-speed camera (at more than 100,000 frames per second) and calculated the speed of the fracture travelling through its tail (~ 1.5 miles per second). I’ve attached it below for you to watch.

Yakhchal – An Ancient Cold Storage Marvel

By Anupum Pant

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During a period when electricity was only a thing for the Gods, around 400 B.C.E., in the hot-arid deserts of Iran where temperatures touched 40 degree centigrade, ancient engineers had found a way to keep their ice from melting. Two thousand years back, a cold storage facility was being used. The impressive thing about it – it was clean and sustainable technology.

What are these?

Yakhchals, or ice pits of ancient Persia were the huge mounds (buildings hollow from the inside), which made it possible for Persians to store away the ice for summers, meat, dairy products, other food items and chilled frozen Faloodeh for the palace. Beside treats for the palace, the method of preserving ice was so professional yet simple that even the poor could afford it.

Structure and Working

The structure of these buildings above the ground is a large mud brick dome, often rising to about 60 feet in height. Below it are large underground empty spaces, up to 5000 cubic meter in volume. This space had access to wind catch and often contained a system of wind-catchers that could easily bring temperatures inside the space down to frigid levels in summer days. The structures were built so well that many still remain standing.

Working: The massive insulation built into the walls (due to the use of a special mixture of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash) and the continuous cooling waters that spiralled down its side kept the ice frozen throughout the summer by evaporative cooling (just like those mist fans). They also had a trench at the bottom to catch water from the molten ice and to refreeze it during the cold desert nights. The ice was then broken up and moved to rooms deep in the ground. As more water ran into the trench the process was repeated.

Geography: These were built in the areas that had suitable condition for producing natural ice or places where there was feasibility of water freezing during the cold nights.

Major architectural elements

  • Shading wall – To avoid direct exposure to sunlight and to let the structure remain cool in the shade.
  • Provisional pool – To supply water for evaporative cooling to take place.
  • and Ice reservoir – To keep the cycle going. Freeze > Melt > Refreeze at night and so on…

The end of Yakhchal (reasons)

  • Since the advent of electricity-guzzling freezers and air conditioners, unfortunately, the use of these architectural wonders has been considered as foolishness. This is probably the reason no Yakhchals are being used for cold storage anymore.
  • Desert storms, caused a lot of erosion to these structures, especially to the ones that were isolated in the desert regions.
  • Since Yakhchal’s ice formed in the open it was prone to combining with dust and resulted in contamination. That was another reason it wasn’t considered as a choice useful enough for modern purposes.

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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.