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.