Wednesday, 14 December 2011

No blow zone

Red phosphorus - from Wikipedia

You can’t have a career in chemistry without a few accidents. One of mine was an incident with a jar of red phosphorus. Somehow, and I don’t remember how, I managed to set it on fire.

Now as you know, if you ignite a solid, carbon-based fuel such as a piece of wood, you can generally put it out by blowing it out like a match. It doesn’t work with red phosphorus.

If you blow on burning red phosphorus it flares up like a sodding great blowlamp. I know - I've tried it. Never again.

For a jar of red phosphorus like the one I’d managed to set on fire, the best way to put it out is simply to put the lid back on. It works a treat.

In the end though, all it cost me to learn this little lesson was one eyebrow. Could have been worse too – I could have dropped the jar. 


David Duff said...

Ah, yes, I remember you 'stinks-lot' were never to be trusted at school!

A K Haart said...

DD - with good reason!

Sam Vega said...

"A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."

Mark Twain.

If only all life's lessons were so clear and so simple.

rogerh said...

Some declare "Experience is directly proportional to the amount of expensive equipment ruined". Some might substitute lives lost or economies bankrupted.

At least AK learned something.

A K Haart said...

SV - I wonder how he knew?

rogerh - I wonder if modern students get near red phosphorus. Less chance of an accident and no chance of learning the lesson.

rogerh said...

Minor accidents and near misses serve a uaeful purpose to the aware, a reminder just how easily things can go wrong and that we are not as clever as we think.

As for school chemistry I look forward to the revival of the methane - oxygen - spark demonstration - banned in the '30s. Useful for two reasons - it is exciting and it puts up the price of science teachers.