Science. Communication. Community.
Welcome to summer! With Memorial Day just around the corner, let’s delve into some hot, warm, and cold topics.
It’s the season for fire in the backyard. While I know how to build a campfire, I generally don’t want to go through that process every time I want to simply grill a couple of sausages. So I use, as my Dad affectionately calls it, Scout Water. When I recently realized I didn’t have any, it was too late — I’d already committed. I’d already put the charcoal in the grill, I flat out refused to drive to the store, and it was after 8 pm. Stomachs were grumbling.
Fortunately I had a huge bag of old bank statements I was going to shred anyway; perfect tinder for the fire. It took a painful lot of them to get the coals lit, and made a lot of ash, and I think I looked like I was auditioning for the role of Grizabella, The Glamour Cat. My lovely dining companion suggested adding some cooking oil, and that certainly helped things along.
Ah yes, cooking oil is flammable like kerosene. She is smart.
The sausages and sweet potatoes were delicious. The next day I ordered a chimney starter. They’re pretty cheap and unlike lighter fluid, reusable. Fire’s a simple product of reactants: something flammable + oxygen + heat. Let’s go back to high school chemistry, namely Le Chatelier’s Principle. To accelerate the reaction (get more product), you have to upset the balance of products and reactants. So you add more reactant. It seems, dare I say, healthier to fuel the fire with more oxygen rather than with more easily combustible material that smells a little funny.
Warm: Climate Change
It’s the era for climate change, as detailed in the recent National Climate Assessment. You may notice how nice that site looks and how organized and easy to use it is. This is no healthcare.gov. While this is a blatant case of “I know her,” but my friend Cat Wolner was instrumental in getting this website the way it is. You can explore by region, by topic (i.e. extreme weather or carbon cycle), and there are a lot of good graphs. Check it out and get your information fix, you knowledge junkie, you.
Cool: Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Well, I mean, he’s pretty cool for a guy who likely wears jorts to the BBQ.
Cold: The melting/freezing point of water.
I’ve been making a fair amount of roasted meats, and I’ve been using this crappy dial thermometer. I don’t think it’s faulty or anything, it just takes SO LONG to read the temperature. The end of it was rather large, too, so I felt like I was ruining the meat, one hole punch at a time. I splurged (well, $20) and got a new fast-read digital one, shown above. But, like any nerd, I wanted to test it out. I tested my body temperature, but got a low number. Then I remembered I do run low but have no idea what my own personal average is. I needed to reference something more objective. Then I remembered I can easily create two temperatures exactly, in the comfort of my own home. All I needed was to create a phase change.
My freezer keeps things at about -10 F. If you take out an ice cube, energy flows into the ice cube to heat it up. It will warm up to the surroundings, until it reaches 32 F. Then it will stay stubbornly at 32 F until it’s melted. All the energy is going into the phase change, and the temperature is steady. Then once it’s liquid, it will heat up again, leveling out at room temperature. The exact same temperature leveling happens when you go from heat up water and create a liquid-gas phase change at 212 F.
You can artificially induce this phase changing state by mixing up a bunch of ice and some water. Don’t skimp on the ice, and smaller ice is better. If you can make a nice ice slurry, that’s ideal. The other phase change is easy. Just bring water to a boil.
My new thermometer registered 32 F exactly, and only took about 10 seconds to get there. Color me impressed and happy. I know I could have ordered a fancy probe from the Fisher catalog, but it sure is nice when you don’t have to.