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Science

Sodium + Private Lake = Fun 762

travisbean writes "This should be enough to pique your interest. Add to the story that the guy has his own pond and I think we can all see where this is going... 'The first step was the procurement, through eBay, of three and half pounds of solid sodium metal for about a hundred dollars. This is a decent price for a small quantity like this. Small being a relative term: It's used by the ton in industry, but anything more than a few grams is a dangerous quantity if found in your home. Three and a half pounds is enough, for example, to blow your home to bits under the right conditions.'"
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Sodium + Private Lake = Fun

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  • Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

    by SexyKellyOsbourne ( 606860 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:03PM (#4414283) Journal
    Too bad he couldn't afford Cesium or Francium!
    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

      by evilrunner ( 307040 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:14PM (#4414348) Journal
      Too bad Francium has a half life that is something on the order of a few milliseconds. Cesium on the other hand could explode if it was exposed to humid air. Sounds like Darwin at work to me.
    • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Funny)

      by wandernotlost ( 444769 ) <slashdot@@@trailmagic...com> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:49PM (#4414519)
      Ah yes. Reminds me of when I used to read alt.cesium, back in the day. Wonderful stories of Cesium and swimming pools and other bodies of water. The conjecture of all the great possibile combinations of Cesium and everyday products (like condoms - for explosive sex!).

      Such fond memories.
    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:06PM (#4414595) Homepage
      He does have some Cesium. It's sealed in a glass vial which he keeps in a locked compartment in the Periodic Table Table, along with two gold coins (because it was easier than putting a lock in Au as well. He thinks that if the glass were to break, there would be one hell of an explosion.

      It's a good thing I read the PTT site a few days ago linked from the IgNoble Awards, because it's slashdotted all to hell now. If it weren't for that, I'd provide you with a link to the Cesium page.

      As for Francium, I think I got to read the page for every element he had, and I don't seem to recall him having any. Some of the cool stuff he did have was some Lite Salt (NaCl/KCl mixture) which was measurably radioactive (!) because of a certain amount of natural Potassium is radioactive, and a Fiestaware bowl (which used Uranium as a dye) which was significantly radioactive and for which he made a cast lead bowl in which to store it.

      A little bit of trivia: more than a few of the Wolfram Research folks have purchased samples of Tungsten. Why? Tungsten's symbol is W, representing its name in German: Wolfram.

      • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

        by Galahad2 ( 517736 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:42PM (#4414740) Homepage
        Well, if he had some Francium, he probably doesn't have it anymore. The most common type has a half life of only 21.8 months (that's 223Fr, 221 and 212 have halflives of 4.8 months and 20 minutes, respectively). Not to mention that he would probably be able to knock "cancer" up a few notches on the ol' "What's probably going to kill me" list, and rule out any prospect of having children. Well, children that don't glow in the dark and are less than 60 feet tall, anyway.
        • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

          by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @02:20AM (#4415273) Homepage
          Ah-ha. And what does Francium throw off when it decays? Hm, let me check. Looks like it throws off alpha particles. It's unlikely that they would get out of the glass phial containing the Francium, and even more unlikely that they'd get through the fabric of his trousers. Thin tissue paper stops alpha particles.
          • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Informative)

            by jeblucas ( 560748 ) <jeblucas AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @08:53AM (#4416331) Homepage Journal
            Thin tissue paper stops alpha particles.
            Actually, your skin is thick enough to stop alpha particles. Barring ingestion, inhalation, or puncture wounds, pure alpha particle radiation poses almost no risk to your health. That said, if you do inhale some [icakusa.com], it is far more damaging than beta or gamma.

            The lab I used to work in used Fiestaware (the orange U-238 containing type) to test our detectors. Fiestaware is relatively safe, the only worry being if you scratched the surface with your fork or knife and ingested some of the slivers.

            If you just want nuclide information and decay chains, I have to recommend this site [bnl.gov].

      • Re:Awesome (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        He probably does not have a pure sample of Francium, even though it can be found in nature, because it is short lived. Its longest lived isotope is Fr-223, with a half-life of about 22 minutes.

        Francium naturally occurs because Uranium-235 has a long half life (7*10^8 years), and it can decay per: U-235 => Th-231 => Pa-231 => Ac-227 => Fr-223 => Ra-223 => etc.

        That is the only significant source of Francium in nature.

        On the other hand, although the only Plutonium and Technetium on Earth are manmade, he could in principle have samples of these elements, since they have isotopes with reasonably long half lives.
  • Imagine... (Score:4, Funny)

    by nizo ( 81281 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:06PM (#4414296) Homepage Journal
    duct taping this sodium to people who post "imagine a beowulf cluster of these" posts, and throwing them in a lake.
  • by Zspdude ( 531908 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:09PM (#4414311) Homepage
    I bet the Darwin awards have already written up his exploits and are now just waiting....
  • by jsse ( 254124 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:09PM (#4414313) Homepage Journal
    explode in the similar fashion within 3 minutes featuring by /.
  • Article Text (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:09PM (#4414315)
    Sodium Party
    Periodic Table home

    I'd read about, and heard stories about, throwing sodium into water. It's a classic thing chemistry students do in college, and based on the reports I have been able to find on the internet, they are often drunk at the time.

    While anecdotal evidence would suggest that many people have thrown sodium into the lakes and streams of the world, they have been reprehensibly lax in documenting the results. I could find no reliable, and I stress the word reliable, reports on what actually happens. What reports I did find were contradictory: As you will see, I now know why. The only videos I could find were of pathetic thumbnail-sized bits skidding about in a bowl. (Click here to see my version of this: It's really boring, trust me.)

    (A note on videos: All the videos on this page are in QuickTime format, and most of them require QuickTime V5 or better. You can download the latest version of QuickTime for Macintosh or Windows from http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download.)

    To do better than that, I decided I should produce a comprehensive online reference on sodium dropping, with documentation on the size and shape of the chunks, how thrown, and most importantly with videos of the resulting explosions. To do this, I held a Sodium Party. People brought chips and soda and we had a cookout.

    The first step was the procurement, through eBay, of three and half pounds of solid sodium metal for about a hundred dollars. This is a decent price for a small quantity like this. Small being a relative term: It's used by the ton in industry, but anything more than a few grams is a dangerous quantity if found in your home. Three and a half pounds is enough, for example, to blow your home to bits under the right conditions.

    Next I constructed a patented Sodium Release-o-tron:

    It was designed to be constructed in less than an hour using only things I already had lying around the shop, be very unlikely to go off by accident, and be unable to fail when activated. So far so good.

    Here's a picture of the first lump I loaded into it, in a preliminary experiment about a month before the party:

    Click here for a video showing how this lump was cut off of the main block: A wood chisel and some pushing is all it takes, because this stuff is very, very soft.

    And here's a picture of what happened when we pulled the string:

    Click here to see a video of this first explosion. (But only if you've got a fast connection, because it's not the best video by far: See below for much better ones if loading these takes time for you.)

    This chunk, about 50 grams, gave a surprisingly strong bang, especially considering that there was no containment and no intentional pre-mixing of reactive chemicals, at least one of which is normally a prerequisite for a sharp report.

    My theory is that it's a fuel-air explosion caused by mixing of the hydrogen gas with air, ignited a second or two later (as you can see in the video) by the heat that builds up in the sodium. The heating of the sodium acts as the time fuse needed to make any fuel air bomb work. This theory would imply that only a minimal shock wave should be transmitted into the water, since the explosion would be happening well above the surface, as the picture seems to show. Unfortunately that theory is not supported by the fact that the metal bucket was split at the seams, even though less than an inch of rim extended over the level of the water.

    Which brings me to a safety warning: Sodium is really rather dangerous. If we had been anywhere within 15 feet of this explosion, it would have sprayed us with molten sodium and sodium hydroxide. Even a tiny amount in the eyes would have been a serious medical emergency. That's why I built a device that let me release it in a very controlled way from a great distance: If you want to do anything even remotely like this, you should take similar precautions. While it's safe to drop a tiny piece, maybe a few millimeters on edge, into a bowl of water, if you are wearing safety glasses, the force of the explosion goes up non-linearly with size. A lot of people have hurt themselves by going to bigger and bigger pieces thinking it's just going to do more of the same. It doesn't: At some point it turns from a fizzle and flame into a real explosion, like a shotgun.

    There's also the issue of smoke, of which a lot is produced. I'm not sure what the smoke is, but I suspect it's powdered soda lye (caustic soda, otherwise known as sodium hydroxide), which means you really, really don't want to get in the way of it. Or it could be powdered sodium oxide, which might react over time with carbon dioxide in the air to form sodium carbonate or bicarbonate. I really don't know. But if it is powdered soda lye it would severely burn your eyes, lungs, and skin, and no safety glasses would protect you. Be sure you are upwind.

    We had wet down about a 15 foot radius all around, and true to expectations, there were a series of secondary explosions as balls of sodium ejected by the main explosion hit the ground. Unfortunately I was taken aback by the explosion and jerked the camera, so you can't see them. That's one reason the later videos came out better: I used a tripod.

    I had planned to hose down and maybe neutralize the driveway the next morning, but in a fascinating display of nature, the driveway was full of little yellow butterflies the next morning.

    I've read that male butterflies collect sodium as a present for their mates, and they sure seemed to like mine, so I decided to leave it. I'm surprised they liked what must be a fairly basic solution, but then maybe it's just neutralized decades of road acid.

    According to the popular radio entomologist May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois, I was right about the butterflies. She writes:
    "They're called sulfur butterflies (in the family Pieridae) and the general consensus is that they are indeed after sodium, which is transferred to females in the spermatophore or sperm package.
    Here are some references about the phenomenon:
    Adler, P. and D. Pearson, 1982. Why do male butterflies visit mud puddles? Can. J. Zool. 60: 322-325.
    Arms, K., P. Feeny and R.C. Lederhouse, 1974. Sodium: stimulus for puddling behavior by tiger swallowtail butterflies, Papilio glaucus. Science 185: 372-374.
    Smedley, S. R. and T. Eisner 1996. Sodium--a male moth's gift to its offspring. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 93:809-13.

    There's something intensely sad about this. These tiny creatures have nothing to give but a little package of sodium, but this they give with all their heart. It is their life, their hope, their future, and they give it, asking nothing in return, that their children might have a better start in life. I suppose it should be uplifting, but somehow it just seems terribly sad to me.

    Moving on, I still needed to work out the details of my Sodium Party. The classic thing to do with sodium is to throw it in a lake. I own a lake. It's obvious what to do, right? Actually, it's not that simple. For one thing, I care a great deal about the fish and frogs in my lake, and don't wish to poison or shock them. Sodium certainly isn't poisonous, but it could raise the pH measurably, even in my acre and a half lake (I did the math). More of a problem would be intense shock waves. After all, fishing with dynamite is a redneck tradition, and I don't allow fishing in my lake, even by me.

    There was also that phone call from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which somehow got wind of my idea. They believe that sodium is a caustic waste material which may not be dumped into the waters of the state in any quantity. I question that on two grounds, first I question that there is no lower reporting limit on sodium, and second I question that my lake is a water of the state. Having worked as a volunteer for an environmental water quality watchdog organization, and having spoken with several people there about this, I think I'm almost certainly right in believing that I have the legal right to dump a few ounces of sodium into my private lake if I so choose. The representative of the IEPA, however, disagreed with me on that conclusion.

    Fortunately, no constitutional crisis developed out of this impasse, because by the time he put is foot down, I had already decided that I really didn't want to place my fish in harms way anyway.

    The day before the party a few intrepid souls came out to test my ingenious workaround. I cleared a small floating deck, put a tarp over it with edges so I could flood the whole thing with about an inch of water, and put a small kids swimming pool full of water in the middle. Then I anchored the whole thing out in the middle of the lake with the sodium release-o-tron on it.

    I loaded the machine with a 109.5 gram solid lump of sodium (about twice as big as the piece in my first experiment on land), rowed away, and started the cameras rolling.

    The idea was that the sodium would explode in the pool, and at most a trivial amount would escape to the surrounding lake, where it would be instantly vaporized. I could then neutralize the pool water with a touch of hydrochloric acid ("Muriatic acid" at any hardware store), leaving only slightly salty water in the pool. (Sodium goes to hydrogen gas plus sodium and hydroxide ions in the water. Hydrochloric acid is chlorine and hydrogen ions: The hydrogen ions combine with the hydroxide ions to form water and neutralize the pH, while the sodium and chlorine ions are what is more commonly known as dissolved table salt. Not even the IEPA, I believe, has a regulation against dumping slightly salty water.)

    But that's not quite how it worked out. There was an initial large explosion:

    Then there were a series of secondary explosions obviously caused by a single fairly large chunk that was literally hopping across the lake. It was thrown high up into the air, came down to hit the water at a high rate of speed, and was then thrown back up into the air by the resulting explosion. This happened at least three, maybe four times, so far as I can tell from the video.

    This is quite alarming: The longest time between impacts, timed on the videotape, was 3.12 seconds. If you do the math, this means the chunk was thrown almost 40 feet high. Fortunately it was going reasonably close to straight up and down, and we were quite far away (about 200 feet). But this skipping behavior, which so far as I know is documented here for the first time on the internet, clearly gives the whole thing far greater potential reach. It's easy to imagine a chunk skipping hundreds of feet.

    I think this skipping behavior is one reason reports on what happens to sodium when you throw it in water are so varied and contradictory. As you will see in the videos below, it varies tremendously depending on the size of the chunk, how hard it hits the water, how deep the water is, and probably on the temperature of the air and water.

    Very small pieces skid around and may or may not burn, but don't generally explode. Larger pieces explode and disintegrate themselves. Still larger pieces explode but stay intact, ejecting a solid chunk high into the air. Of course when the chunk comes back down, it's anyone's guess what happens next.

    If someone were to throw a chunk like this (about three ounces) by hand into a lake, it could very easy come back and hit them. This video tape clearly demonstrates that sodium can throw itself farther than you can. And more ominously, you can clearly see on at least one of the jumps that it tends to come back at the direction it was thrown from. My theory is that when it hits the water it forms a cavity as it plunges down. This cavity acts like a cannon barrel to direct the chunk back in the direction it came from, when the steam and evolved hydrogen explode.

    For this reason, I think a repeat of this method of deployment would be ill advised. It simply isn't predictable enough to be safe. When the pool is surrounded by wet driveway, there's no obvious way for chunks to skip long distances, and that's the way I decided to do it for the main party.

    On the day of the party I set up the Release-O-Tron at one end of our parking lot, and laid out a pair of hoses connected to the well pump in the lake (which provides an endless supply of water). I ran the hoses for about an hour to get the whole gravel area wet down, and they were left running most of the time, to keep a good puddle about 40-50ft in diameter around the swimming pool.

    Starting around 5:30 we set off a bunch of explosions, using a variety of different sizes and configurations of sodium, during daylight and night time. Some were solid chunks, others were cut up into sugar-cube sized bits:Sodium Party
    Periodic Table home

    I'd read about, and heard stories about, throwing sodium into water. It's a classic thing chemistry students do in college, and based on the reports I have been able to find on the internet, they are often drunk at the time.

    While anecdotal evidence would suggest that many people have thrown sodium into the lakes and streams of the world, they have been reprehensibly lax in documenting the results. I could find no reliable, and I stress the word reliable, reports on what actually happens. What reports I did find were contradictory: As you will see, I now know why. The only videos I could find were of pathetic thumbnail-sized bits skidding about in a bowl. (Click here to see my version of this: It's really boring, trust me.)

    (A note on videos: All the videos on this page are in QuickTime format, and most of them require QuickTime V5 or better. You can download the latest version of QuickTime for Macintosh or Windows from http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download.)

    To do better than that, I decided I should produce a comprehensive online reference on sodium dropping, with documentation on the size and shape of the chunks, how thrown, and most importantly with videos of the resulting explosions. To do this, I held a Sodium Party. People brought chips and soda and we had a cookout.

    The first step was the procurement, through eBay, of three and half pounds of solid sodium metal for about a hundred dollars. This is a decent price for a small quantity like this. Small being a relative term: It's used by the ton in industry, but anything more than a few grams is a dangerous quantity if found in your home. Three and a half pounds is enough, for example, to blow your home to bits under the right conditions.

    Next I constructed a patented Sodium Release-o-tron:

    It was designed to be constructed in less than an hour using only things I already had lying around the shop, be very unlikely to go off by accident, and be unable to fail when activated. So far so good.

    Here's a picture of the first lump I loaded into it, in a preliminary experiment about a month before the party:

    Click here for a video showing how this lump was cut off of the main block: A wood chisel and some pushing is all it takes, because this stuff is very, very soft.

    And here's a picture of what happened when we pulled the string:

    Click here to see a video of this first explosion. (But only if you've got a fast connection, because it's not the best video by far: See below for much better ones if loading these takes time for you.)

    This chunk, about 50 grams, gave a surprisingly strong bang, especially considering that there was no containment and no intentional pre-mixing of reactive chemicals, at least one of which is normally a prerequisite for a sharp report.

    My theory is that it's a fuel-air explosion caused by mixing of the hydrogen gas with air, ignited a second or two later (as you can see in the video) by the heat that builds up in the sodium. The heating of the sodium acts as the time fuse needed to make any fuel air bomb work. This theory would imply that only a minimal shock wave should be transmitted into the water, since the explosion would be happening well above the surface, as the picture seems to show. Unfortunately that theory is not supported by the fact that the metal bucket was split at the seams, even though less than an inch of rim extended over the level of the water.

    Which brings me to a safety warning: Sodium is really rather dangerous. If we had been anywhere within 15 feet of this explosion, it would have sprayed us with molten sodium and sodium hydroxide. Even a tiny amount in the eyes would have been a serious medical emergency. That's why I built a device that let me release it in a very controlled way from a great distance: If you want to do anything even remotely like this, you should take similar precautions. While it's safe to drop a tiny piece, maybe a few millimeters on edge, into a bowl of water, if you are wearing safety glasses, the force of the explosion goes up non-linearly with size. A lot of people have hurt themselves by going to bigger and bigger pieces thinking it's just going to do more of the same. It doesn't: At some point it turns from a fizzle and flame into a real explosion, like a shotgun.

    There's also the issue of smoke, of which a lot is produced. I'm not sure what the smoke is, but I suspect it's powdered soda lye (caustic soda, otherwise known as sodium hydroxide), which means you really, really don't want to get in the way of it. Or it could be powdered sodium oxide, which might react over time with carbon dioxide in the air to form sodium carbonate or bicarbonate. I really don't know. But if it is powdered soda lye it would severely burn your eyes, lungs, and skin, and no safety glasses would protect you. Be sure you are upwind.

    We had wet down about a 15 foot radius all around, and true to expectations, there were a series of secondary explosions as balls of sodium ejected by the main explosion hit the ground. Unfortunately I was taken aback by the explosion and jerked the camera, so you can't see them. That's one reason the later videos came out better: I used a tripod.

    I had planned to hose down and maybe neutralize the driveway the next morning, but in a fascinating display of nature, the driveway was full of little yellow butterflies the next morning.

    I've read that male butterflies collect sodium as a present for their mates, and they sure seemed to like mine, so I decided to leave it. I'm surprised they liked what must be a fairly basic solution, but then maybe it's just neutralized decades of road acid.

    According to the popular radio entomologist May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois, I was right about the butterflies. She writes:
    "They're called sulfur butterflies (in the family Pieridae) and the general consensus is that they are indeed after sodium, which is transferred to females in the spermatophore or sperm package.
    Here are some references about the phenomenon:
    Adler, P. and D. Pearson, 1982. Why do male butterflies visit mud puddles? Can. J. Zool. 60: 322-325.
    Arms, K., P. Feeny and R.C. Lederhouse, 1974. Sodium: stimulus for puddling behavior by tiger swallowtail butterflies, Papilio glaucus. Science 185: 372-374.
    Smedley, S. R. and T. Eisner 1996. Sodium--a male moth's gift to its offspring. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 93:809-13.

    There's something intensely sad about this. These tiny creatures have nothing to give but a little package of sodium, but this they give with all their heart. It is their life, their hope, their future, and they give it, asking nothing in return, that their children might have a better start in life. I suppose it should be uplifting, but somehow it just seems terribly sad to me.

    Moving on, I still needed to work out the details of my Sodium Party. The classic thing to do with sodium is to throw it in a lake. I own a lake. It's obvious what to do, right? Actually, it's not that simple. For one thing, I care a great deal about the fish and frogs in my lake, and don't wish to poison or shock them. Sodium certainly isn't poisonous, but it could raise the pH measurably, even in my acre and a half lake (I did the math). More of a problem would be intense shock waves. After all, fishing with dynamite is a redneck tradition, and I don't allow fishing in my lake, even by me.

    There was also that phone call from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which somehow got wind of my idea. They believe that sodium is a caustic waste material which may not be dumped into the waters of the state in any quantity. I question that on two grounds, first I question that there is no lower reporting limit on sodium, and second I question that my lake is a water of the state. Having worked as a volunteer for an environmental water quality watchdog organization, and having spoken with several people there about this, I think I'm almost certainly right in believing that I have the legal right to dump a few ounces of sodium into my private lake if I so choose. The representative of the IEPA, however, disagreed with me on that conclusion.

    Fortunately, no constitutional crisis developed out of this impasse, because by the time he put is foot down, I had already decided that I really didn't want to place my fish in harms way anyway.

    The day before the party a few intrepid souls came out to test my ingenious workaround. I cleared a small floating deck, put a tarp over it with edges so I could flood the whole thing with about an inch of water, and put a small kids swimming pool full of water in the middle. Then I anchored the whole thing out in the middle of the lake with the sodium release-o-tron on it.

    I loaded the machine with a 109.5 gram solid lump of sodium (about twice as big as the piece in my first experiment on land), rowed away, and started the cameras rolling.

    The idea was that the sodium would explode in the pool, and at most a trivial amount would escape to the surrounding lake, where it would be instantly vaporized. I could then neutralize the pool water with a touch of hydrochloric acid ("Muriatic acid" at any hardware store), leaving only slightly salty water in the pool. (Sodium goes to hydrogen gas plus sodium and hydroxide ions in the water. Hydrochloric acid is chlorine and hydrogen ions: The hydrogen ions combine with the hydroxide ions to form water and neutralize the pH, while the sodium and chlorine ions are what is more commonly known as dissolved table salt. Not even the IEPA, I believe, has a regulation against dumping slightly salty water.)

    But that's not quite how it worked out. There was an initial large explosion:

    Then there were a series of secondary explosions obviously caused by a single fairly large chunk that was literally hopping across the lake. It was thrown high up into the air, came down to hit the water at a high rate of speed, and was then thrown back up into the air by the resulting explosion. This happened at least three, maybe four times, so far as I can tell from the video.

    This is quite alarming: The longest time between impacts, timed on the videotape, was 3.12 seconds. If you do the math, this means the chunk was thrown almost 40 feet high. Fortunately it was going reasonably close to straight up and down, and we were quite far away (about 200 feet). But this skipping behavior, which so far as I know is documented here for the first time on the internet, clearly gives the whole thing far greater potential reach. It's easy to imagine a chunk skipping hundreds of feet.

    I think this skipping behavior is one reason reports on what happens to sodium when you throw it in water are so varied and contradictory. As you will see in the videos below, it varies tremendously depending on the size of the chunk, how hard it hits the water, how deep the water is, and probably on the temperature of the air and water.

    Very small pieces skid around and may or may not burn, but don't generally explode. Larger pieces explode and disintegrate themselves. Still larger pieces explode but stay intact, ejecting a solid chunk high into the air. Of course when the chunk comes back down, it's anyone's guess what happens next.

    If someone were to throw a chunk like this (about three ounces) by hand into a lake, it could very easy come back and hit them. This video tape clearly demonstrates that sodium can throw itself farther than you can. And more ominously, you can clearly see on at least one of the jumps that it tends to come back at the direction it was thrown from. My theory is that when it hits the water it forms a cavity as it plunges down. This cavity acts like a cannon barrel to direct the chunk back in the direction it came from, when the steam and evolved hydrogen explode.

    For this reason, I think a repeat of this method of deployment would be ill advised. It simply isn't predictable enough to be safe. When the pool is surrounded by wet driveway, there's no obvious way for chunks to skip long distances, and that's the way I decided to do it for the main party.

    On the day of the party I set up the Release-O-Tron at one end of our parking lot, and laid out a pair of hoses connected to the well pump in the lake (which provides an endless supply of water). I ran the hoses for about an hour to get the whole gravel area wet down, Sodium Party
    Periodic Table home

    I'd read about, and heard stories about, throwing sodium into water. It's a classic thing chemistry students do in college, and based on the reports I have been able to find on the internet, they are often drunk at the time.

    While anecdotal evidence would suggest that many people have thrown sodium into the lakes and streams of the world, they have been reprehensibly lax in documenting the results. I could find no reliable, and I stress the word reliable, reports on what actually happens. What reports I did find were contradictory: As you will see, I now know why. The only videos I could find were of pathetic thumbnail-sized bits skidding about in a bowl. (Click here to see my version of this: It's really boring, trust me.)

    (A note on videos: All the videos on this page are in QuickTime format, and most of them require QuickTime V5 or better. You can download the latest version of QuickTime for Macintosh or Windows from http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download.)

    To do better than that, I decided I should produce a comprehensive online reference on sodium dropping, with documentation on the size and shape of the chunks, how thrown, and most importantly with videos of the resulting explosions. To do this, I held a Sodium Party. People brought chips and soda and we had a cookout.

    The first step was the procurement, through eBay, of three and half pounds of solid sodium metal for about a hundred dollars. This is a decent price for a small quantity like this. Small being a relative term: It's used by the ton in industry, but anything more than a few grams is a dangerous quantity if found in your home. Three and a half pounds is enough, for example, to blow your home to bits under the right conditions.

    Next I constructed a patented Sodium Release-o-tron:

    It was designed to be constructed in less than an hour using only things I already had lying around the shop, be very unlikely to go off by accident, and be unable to fail when activated. So far so good.

    Here's a picture of the first lump I loaded into it, in a preliminary experiment about a month before the party:

    Click here for a video showing how this lump was cut off of the main block: A wood chisel and some pushing is all it takes, because this stuff is very, very soft.

    And here's a picture of what happened when we pulled the string:

    Click here to see a video of this first explosion. (But only if you've got a fast connection, because it's not the best video by far: See below for much better ones if loading these takes time for you.)

    This chunk, about 50 grams, gave a surprisingly strong bang, especially considering that there was no containment and no intentional pre-mixing of reactive chemicals, at least one of which is normally a prerequisite for a sharp report.

    My theory is that it's a fuel-air explosion caused by mixing of the hydrogen gas with air, ignited a second or two later (as you can see in the video) by the heat that builds up in the sodium. The heating of the sodium acts as the time fuse needed to make any fuel air bomb work. This theory would imply that only a minimal shock wave should be transmitted into the water, since the explosion would be happening well above the surface, as the picture seems to show. Unfortunately that theory is not supported by the fact that the metal bucket was split at the seams, even though less than an inch of rim extended over the level of the water.

    Which brings me to a safety warning: Sodium is really rather dangerous. If we had been anywhere within 15 feet of this explosion, it would have sprayed us with molten sodium and sodium hydroxide. Even a tiny amount in the eyes would have been a serious medical emergency. That's why I built a device that let me release it in a very controlled way from a great distance: If you want to do anything even remotely like this, you should take similar precautions. While it's safe to drop a tiny piece, maybe a few millimeters on edge, into a bowl of water, if you are wearing safety glasses, the force of the explosion goes up non-linearly with size. A lot of people have hurt themselves by going to bigger and bigger pieces thinking it's just going to do more of the same. It doesn't: At some point it turns from a fizzle and flame into a real explosion, like a shotgun.

    There's also the issue of smoke, of which a lot is produced. I'm not sure what the smoke is, but I suspect it's powdered soda lye (caustic soda, otherwise known as sodium hydroxide), which means you really, really don't want to get in the way of it. Or it could be powdered sodium oxide, which might react over time with carbon dioxide in the air to form sodium carbonate or bicarbonate. I really don't know. But if it is powdered soda lye it would severely burn your eyes, lungs, and skin, and no safety glasses would protect you. Be sure you are upwind.

    We had wet down about a 15 foot radius all around, and true to expectations, there were a series of secondary explosions as balls of sodium ejected by the main explosion hit the ground. Unfortunately I was taken aback by the explosion and jerked the camera, so you can't see them. That's one reason the later videos came out better: I used a tripod.

    I had planned to hose down and maybe neutralize the driveway the next morning, but in a fascinating display of nature, the driveway was full of little yellow butterflies the next morning.

    I've read that male butterflies collect sodium as a present for their mates, and they sure seemed to like mine, so I decided to leave it. I'm surprised they liked what must be a fairly basic solution, but then maybe it's just neutralized decades of road acid.

    According to the popular radio entomologist May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois, I was right about the butterflies. She writes:
    "They're called sulfur butterflies (in the family Pieridae) and the general consensus is that they are indeed after sodium, which is transferred to females in the spermatophore or sperm package.
    Here are some references about the phenomenon:
    Adler, P. and D. Pearson, 1982. Why do male butterflies visit mud puddles? Can. J. Zool. 60: 322-325.
    Arms, K., P. Feeny and R.C. Lederhouse, 1974. Sodium: stimulus for puddling behavior by tiger swallowtail butterflies, Papilio glaucus. Science 185: 372-374.
    Smedley, S. R. and T. Eisner 1996. Sodium--a male moth's gift to its offspring. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 93:809-13.

    There's something intensely sad about this. These tiny creatures have nothing to give but a little package of sodium, but this they give with all their heart. It is their life, their hope, their future, and they give it, asking nothing in return, that their children might have a better start in life. I suppose it should be uplifting, but somehow it just seems terribly sad to me.

    Moving on, I still needed to work out the details of my Sodium Party. The classic thing to do with sodium is to throw it in a lake. I own a lake. It's obvious what to do, right? Actually, it's not that simple. For one thing, I care a great deal about the fish and frogs in my lake, and don't wish to poison or shock them. Sodium certainly isn't poisonous, but it could raise the pH measurably, even in my acre and a half lake (I did the math). More of a problem would be intense shock waves. After all, fishing with dynamite is a redneck tradition, and I don't allow fishing in my lake, even by me.

    There was also that phone call from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which somehow got wind of my idea. They believe that sodium is a caustic waste material which may not be dumped into the waters of the state in any quantity. I question that on two grounds, first I question that there is no lower reporting limit on sodium, and second I question that my lake is a water of the state. Having worked as a volunteer for an environmental water quality watchdog organization, and having spoken with several people there about this, I think I'm almost certainly right in believing that I have the legal right to dump a few ounces of sodium into my private lake if I so choose. The representative of the IEPA, however, disagreed with me on that conclusion.

    Fortunately, no constitutional crisis developed out of this impasse, because by the time he put is foot down, I had already decided that I really didn't want to place my fish in harms way anyway.

    The day before the party a few intrepid souls came out to test my ingenious workaround. I cleared a small floating deck, put a tarp over it with edges so I could flood the whole thing with about an inch of water, and put a small kids swimming pool full of water in the middle. Then I anchored the whole thing out in the middle of the lake with the sodium release-o-tron on it.

    I loaded the machine with a 109.5 gram solid lump of sodium (about twice as big as the piece in my first experiment on land), rowed away, and started the cameras rolling.

    The idea was that the sodium would explode in the pool, and at most a trivial amount would escape to the surrounding lake, where it would be instantly vaporized. I could then neutralize the pool water with a touch of hydrochloric acid ("Muriatic acid" at any hardware store), leaving only slightly salty water in the pool. (Sodium goes to hydrogen gas plus sodium and hydroxide ions in the water. Hydrochloric acid is chlorine and hydrogen ions: The hydrogen ions combine with the hydroxide ions to form water and neutralize the pH, while the sodium and chlorine ions are what is more commonly known as dissolved table salt. Not even the IEPA, I believe, has a regulation against dumping slightly salty water.)

    But that's not quite how it worked out. There was an initial large explosion:

    Then there were a series of secondary explosions obviously caused by a single fairly large chunk that was literally hopping across the lake. It was thrown high up into the air, came down to hit the water at a high rate of speed, and was then thrown back up into the air by the resulting explosion. This happened at least three, maybe four times, so far as I can tell from the video.

    This is quite alarming: The longest time between impacts, timed on the videotape, was 3.12 seconds. If you do the math, this means the chunk was thrown almost 40 feet high. Fortunately it was going reasonably close to straight up and down, and we were quite far away (about 200 feet). But this skipping behavior, which so far as I know is documented here for the first time on the internet, clearly gives the whole thing far greater potential reach. It's easy to imagine a chunk skipping hundreds of feet.

    I think this skipping behavior is one reason reports on what happens to sodium when you throw it in water are so varied and contradictory. As you will see in the videos below, it varies tremendously depending on the size of the chunk, how hard it hits the water, how deep the water is, and probably on the temperature of the air and water.

    Very small pieces skid around and may or may not burn, but don't generally explode. Larger pieces explode and disintegrate themselves. Still larger pieces explode but stay intact, ejecting a solid chunk high into the air. Of course when the chunk comes back down, it's anyone's guess what happens next.

    If someone were to throw a chunk like this (about three ounces) by hand into a lake, it could very easy come back and hit them. This video tape clearly demonstrates that sodium can throw itself farther than you can. And more ominously, you can clearly see on at least one of the jumps that it tends to come back at the direction it was thrown from. My theory is that when it hits the water it forms a cavity as it plunges down. This cavity acts like a cannon barrel to direct the chunk back in the direction it came from, when the steam and evolved hydrogen explode.

    For this reason, I think a repeat of this method of deployment would be ill advised. It simply isn't predictable enough to be safe. When the pool is surrounded by wet driveway, there's no obvious way for chunks to skip long distances, and that's the way I decided to do it for the main party.

    On the day of the party I set up the Release-O-Tron at one end of our parking lot, and laid out a pair of hoses connected to the well pump in the lake (which provides an endless supply of water). I ran the hoses for about an hour to get the whole gravel area wet down, and they were left running most of the time, to keep a good puddle about 40-50ft in diameter around the swimming pool.

    Starting around 5:30 we set off a bunch of explosions, using a variety of different sizes and configurations of sodium, during daylight and night time. Some were solid chunks, others were cut up into sugar-cube sized bits:and they were left running most of the time, to keep a good puddle about 40-50ft in diameter around the swimming pool.

    Starting around 5:30 we set off a bunch of explosions, using a variety of different sizes and configurations of sodium, during daylight and night time. Some were solid chunks, others were cut up into sugar-cube sized bits:
  • How long (Score:3, Funny)

    by geek ( 5680 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:10PM (#4414324)
    How long before John Ashcroft has him arrested for creating bomb materials and prosecuting him as an Al-Qaeda terrorist?
    • Re:How long (Score:5, Funny)

      by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @01:14AM (#4415112) Journal
      CNN Headline tomorrow...

      Breaking News!!!

      Attouney General John Ashcroft has made a major announcement on the breakup of a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist cell in the US. Read more below.

      -
      "Earlier today, we stopped an unfolding terrorist plot here in the United States. A group of individuals believed to be cells for Al Qaeda were arrested after several hundred anonymous TIPS. These cells seemed to have once again used the evil internet, source of all evil and the backbone of the "Axis of Evil(r)"; specifically a website going by the name 'slashdot' to come together and plan the destruction of my... I mean our great nation. About 250,000 "enemy combatants" were taken into custody and are currently being housed in an undisclosed location. All appear to be Muslim; extremest; terrorist; evil; doubleplus ungood. Do not let these terrorists win, you must go about your lives as usual, and... just please forget we have these people in custody. Thank you."
      -

      In an unrelated story, the tech industry in the US came to a grinding halt today, as most of America's computer-elites were no-shows at work. No further information is available at this time, and we've been told by unnamed sources to "shut the hell up and quit asking questions" on the topic. We don't expect to bring you more on this topic later in the day... or... ever.

  • by InterruptDescriptorT ( 531083 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:11PM (#4414328) Homepage
    When I was in university, my Chem professor (who attended the University of Kentucky) regaled us with the story of when she and four of her friends went down to Stores and checked out one kilogram of sodium. It was stored in a jar filled with some sort of oil (so it wouldn't react).

    The kids headed out under deep cover of night to a local place called 'High Bridge', so called because it was, essentially, a very high bridge over a river, parked their car, and carefully removed the sodium from the jar. On the count of three, they tossed the chunk of sodium off the bridge, letting it fall to the river below.

    She ended the story by saying, 'We sped away as fast as we could, but strangely didn't hear or really see anything unusual. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that our 'experiment' had failed until one of my friends turned back to look at the bridge and said 'Oh... my... God...'. The mushroom cloud and resulting explosion had lit the sky bright red in a remote area of Kentucky at 2am in the morning.

    There was a report in the paper the next day but no explanation as to what had happened.

    And that's why my bad-assed Chem professor will always have my utmost respect. :-)
    • by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:38PM (#4414473) Homepage
      I recall a story from high school (although it may be apochryphal) that a chemistry teacher at my school had been demonstrating the reactivity of various metals and had a number of small chunks of said metals arrayed along his bench in various jars.

      As usual the sodium was kept in mineral oil - and in the story I heard, one of the other (presumably less reactive) metals was kept under water.

      When the most trusted kid in the class was left to clean up at the end, they claimed that he'd inadvertantly placed the lump of sodium back into the jar containing water - but that it had not exploded because it was still coated with oil.

      The story goes that some hours later, the oil was finally displaced by the water in the jar and the small chunk of sodium then exploded - shattering the entire row of glass jars and spreading exotic and highly reactive metal chunks all over the room resulting in hundreds of small explosions and fires.

      I kinda suspect that this may not be a true story though because I can't find a reasonable candidate for the metal that would have to have been kept under water in order for this to be true. However, there was some kind of an explosion/fire in the lab because I remember chemistry classes being cancelled for about three weeks afterwards.

      Chemistry classes back in the mid-1960's were much more dangerous than kids are exposed to these days. I clearly recall being given small amounts of metallic mercury to *play* with!! These days, if you so much as crack a mercury thermometer they evacuate the city for three blocks in every direction. :-)

      It's a shame, mercury is incredibly good fun to play with - until the vapours poison your brain of course! It's hard to come to terms with something so heavy that's "just" a liquid - and it's amazing how the droplets 'shatter' when you hit them with the end of a ruler.
      • As far as i remember phosphorous (or at least the pure kind) is highly reactive with air, so it is kept in water...perhaps the story could be true after all....
        • Yes. Phosphorus, more specifically *white* phosphorus (P4) is the most likely candidate for being kept under water. This keeps it from slowly oxidizing on its own in air. When it does this, it glows in the dark; hence its name. It can also ignite spontaneously from the generated heat. Then it oxidizes real fast.

          The other allotropes of elemental phosphorus are red (polymerized white phosphorus) and black. They are not nearly as reactive or as poisonous as white phosphorus.
      • by mino ( 180832 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:00PM (#4414563) Homepage

        Similar (first-hand, confirmable) story told to us by our high school chemistry teacher. Slicing off a thin piece of sodium off the larger chunk with a razor blade, or whatever the hell it is he used, he then proceeded to (accidentally -- he wasn't that much of a moron) drop the sliver he had cut off back into the jar, and throw the remainder of the chunk into the bowl of water. Cue enormous explosion (well, moderately enormous.. it's not like the original piece was THAT big), and an awful lot of terrified thirteen-year-olds.

        Oh, and how do I know the story's true? Well, the fire brigade turned up, the rest of the chem classes were cancelled for the day, and when we had our next class (the next morning), there was an enormous water (+ whatever other crud) stain on the roof right above where the bowl was.

        Apparently (my dad worked at the school) he was chewed out in a big way and only kept his job on the strength of the various teaching awards he'd won for making science fun (and how!)

        • by nels_tomlinson ( 106413 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:19PM (#4414651) Homepage
          This sounds a lot like a thermax demonstration I witnessed. Liquid iron spattered the front several rows of the lecture hall. Then the people in the front rows spattered all over the rest of us as they tried to get away. No-one was hurt, though it took a little while to be sure, and there were a lot of holes in clothing. Fortunately, there weren't any smoke detectors in the building, and the sprinklers didn't go off.

          I didn't sit near the front of a class until grad school.

      • by simetra ( 155655 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:16PM (#4414637) Homepage Journal
        We played with mercury... I was playing with a pipette, sucking mercury into it. Then I felt the heavy little droplet hit the back of my throat! I swallowed it! Should I be concerned? This was many, many years ago.

      • When I was 11 my teacher in primary school told us about some of the stunts he and his friends had pulled in high school. One day they were shown the experiment with a sliver of sodium and some water. Not content with the small sliver and the small effect that it caused, they stole some of it from the classroom. The needed a place to do the experiment and figured a toilet bowl was a great place to try out. The effect was as many of us expected: explosion, toilet bowl wrecked, water bursting out of all the adjacent toilets. Unfortunately on the other side of the wall there were the teachers toilets. Ofcourse a teacher was sitting on the bowl when the explosion happened. :-) You can imagine what happened. They apparantly didn't get caught.
      • And you still get to play with things you shouldn't, if you have the right teacher. I've got a couple good stories from AP Chem at my high school, in 1996 and 1997.

        A favourite activity of kids in that class was filling balloons with oxygen, hydrogen and something else flamable, methane I think but I can't remember for sure. At any rate in 1996, year before I took it, the kids were doing this I believe as a prep for the magic show we put on for the elementry kids (we did it in 1997 too). Well they happened to set it up right under a sprinkler and it set it off, drenching them and setting off the fire alarm. The video of it (they were taping) was quite amusing.

        So in 1997 when I was there we did a few different things. One related to this whole sodium discussion. Allt he metals from that group were placed, in a very small quantity, in water to show the increase in reactivity. All were stored as small chunks in oil. Lithium just fizzed a little, sodium kind of half burned and exploded and so on up. However the Cesium was rather more reactive than the teacher expected, or perhaps she just grabbed too big a lump. IT ended up blowing the whole 2 litre beaker apart and scaring the shit out of everyone, her espically.

        She also told us that her son managed to make himself nice and sick to his stomach by drinking some fairly concentrated (like 6 molar) hydrochloric acid. See she used the little plastic chem bottles for water bottles in her house. For some reason, she had some HCl there one day, in the same bottle (storing acid was a common use for them in the lab). He didn't look at the lable and took a nice swig. Now HCl won't burn you like some, it's stomach acid, but that concentrated will cause a fair amount of dsicomfort.
    • And another (Score:3, Funny)

      by phorm ( 591458 )
      We had fun experiments in High School with small bits of sodium (I'm fairly sure it was sodium) on a container of water, under he fume hood. The prof mentioned that at one time apparently one student tried to snitch some of the material to take home (and, presumably, apply with water). About partway through class he started getting paranoid and had the feeling that his pockets were getting hot (from his sweat?). He took a bathroom break and flushed the evidence.

      There wasn't a whole lot of sodium, but apparently it blew up a certain amount of piping... I'd image that he spent a lot of time in detention after that.
    • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:08PM (#4414603)
      The teacher who oversaw my senior year independant study in chem had a similar story, though not quite as dangerous. The best part was she had video! Shortly after taking over as head of the chem department she had started to clean out the supply closet of dangerous things that were no longer used (or allowed to be used in many cases) for classes. During this work she found a 2.5lb block of solid sodium in a large oil filled container. Since this was enough to cause a serious explosion she immediately removed it from the school, and after making sure that the container wouldn't leak took it out to the lake behind the adjacent elementary school. She found a .22 rifle and a video camera and made a very educational film, she set the can afloat and rowed about a hundred feet away. There she placed the camera at the bow of the boat and shot the can. About 5 seconds after the can was hit and began to sink there was a massive explosion, so violent that the boat was rocked hard enough to knock the camera back into the bottom of the boat =)
    • My AP Chem teacher from a few years ago told this to me. I have no way of saying it's true, but it's almost one of those you'd have to try really hard to make up.

      Anyway, he was the chem head at a little high school at the time the story took place. I think it was in Kentucky but that hardly matters. They were doing the little bits of sodium in water thing and all the kids were greatly amused. One so much that he decided to lift a small stick of sodium, maybe half a pencil sized, from the oil filled jar. Apparently this story was used to get locks on the chemical cabinets at this school afterwards, and without locks the kid had fairly easy access.

      So the kid, not sure what to do with his treasure, puts the oil logged piece of sodium in a paper towel and puts it in his pocket. He wanders to the library as such to study hall. He's getting nervous because he just stole it and starts to sweat a little, and notices his pocket getting a little warm. After a while his pocket is getting really hot and he pulls out the sodium and tosses it on the floor, apparently allowing it to react a little with muggy air. It starts to flame and flare a bit and the kid, brilliantly, steps on it to try and put it out, like one might a small bit of campfire that fell out of the fire pit. So, you guessed it, his shoe now has putty-like sodium metal molded to it and he's kicking bits of it around the library, trying to get it off as it flares a little here and there. Another student sees the small fire flickering on his shoes, calmly goes to janitor's closet and gets the mop water. He then pours it on the sodium and sets it off really well, displaying why kids shouldn't have ready access to things like sodium.

      The bit I'm not sure about is why it started sputtering flame when he removed it from his pocket. Enough of the oil may have been absorbed into the poor fellow's pants and his sweat may have started it a bit, but I'm not sure if dry sodium metal would sputter in humid air. Nor have I had the chance to find out. The way he told the story though was quite funny, and none of us questioned it, so who knows.

  • by dead sun ( 104217 ) <aranachNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:11PM (#4414330) Homepage Journal
    Don't go jumping in the pond immediately after doing this, at least not in the spot where you toss in the sodium. You'd have a pretty basic spot full of sodium hydroxide for a while until it spreads out at least. I don't think a pond of any decent size is going to be too affected by a mere 3.5 pounds though. But I could be wrong on that...
    • Re:Sodium Hydroxide (Score:5, Informative)

      by altairmaine ( 317424 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:20PM (#4414654)
      Easy enough to calculate the approximate pH change, at least assuming the lake isn't buffered (probably a poor assumption).

      3.5 lbs = 1.6 kg Na

      Assuming the reaction occurs completely:

      2Na + 2H2O --> 2Na(+) + H2 + 2OH(-)

      Each molecule of Na should generate one hydroxide molecule. So 1600 g Na * (1 mol / 40 g) = 40 mols Na and 40 mols OH(-) generated.

      Now we look at the pond: 1 acre = 4000 m^2 (approx). Figure a shallow pond, average depth 3 m. Then volume = 12000 m^3 or 12 million liters. Concentration OH(-): 40 mol/12 million L.

      [OH-] = 3.3 x 10^-6
      pH = -log ((10^-14)/[OH-]) = 8.5

      High school chem is your friend. Moderate pH change, nothing huge, but maybe bad for the fish. In reality, the number is probably considerably less - I'd imagine that organic buffers would soak up all those extra hydroxide ions.
  • by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@ho t m a i l . c om> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:13PM (#4414336)
    Wait a second. Ok, although I can't read the story b/c it's slashdotted, this story raises some problems for me.

    Even if the lake is on this guy's property and it belongs to him, doesn't polluting it (turning the pH up by several points) fall within the jurisdiction of the EPA, and his state's Dept of Environmental Protection? Just because you own something doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it.

    Is this something we should be encouraging?
    • ummm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by geek ( 5680 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:17PM (#4414363)
      "Just because you own something doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it"

      Actually that's exactly what it means.
      • Not in this case. Any pollution of the water in his 'private' lake might have an impact on the whole water table. Depending on the whatever relevant factors are, he could pollute sources of drinking water. That's probably why the EPA were involved.
      • Unless ... (Score:5, Funny)

        by emkman ( 467368 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:59PM (#4414559)
        "Just because you own something doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it"

        Actually that's exactly what it means.


        Unless the lake came with some sort of MS-style EULA.
      • Re:ummm (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Galvatron ( 115029 )
        This is why economists use the term "control rights" rather than "property rights." Owning an apartment building in San Francisco is fairly useless, because the government dictates the rent you can charge and does not allow evictions, even if you want to move into the building yourself.

        So, you're right, true ownership means you can do whatever you want with something, but in the USA today, most ownership is not total, and in some cases confers very little control.

      • Re:ummm (Score:3, Insightful)

        by glenebob ( 414078 )
        That's a rather oversimplified way of looking at it...

        Nothing exists in a vacuum, certainly not a lake. Effect the lake, and you effect the environment. You certainly can't legally poor used motor oil (or sodium hydroxide for that matter) in your flower beds, so why should the sodium-in-the-lake trick be so different?
    • Perhaps you should have waited until you could read the story, or the obligatory karma-whore cut and paste, because it contains the answer to the questions you raise.
    • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:54PM (#4414537)
      A few pounds of Sodium will have absolutely no effect on a pond or a lake.

      Freshwater has about 0.01 pounds of salt per cubic foot. In a small pond, say 50 feet across average of 3 feet deep, the three pounds of sodium would raise that to 0.0105 pounds per cubic foot, which is not a significant amount.

      Also, look around your kitchen and bathroom. You'll likely find many worse chemicals that will end up in similar places. In addition, you'll probably find something marked "antibacterial". This has the added benefit of encouraging treatment resistant strains of dangerous bacteria. These types of things are far more harmfull, worry about them if you're worrying about average people messing things up.

      In conclusion, it's mentioned here that it's used by the ton in industry. If something is used on a bulk scale like that, do you think 3 pounds is something to worry about?
  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:14PM (#4414345)
    ...watch THIS!
  • by Nonesuch ( 90847 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:23PM (#4414396) Homepage Journal
    Wow, did they ever overpay!

    Bulk metallic sodium runs under a buck per pound (15 cents to a dollar), when you are buying a 300# drum. Prices in smaller lots and higher purity are slightly higher, ranging up to around $35/pound for analytical grade.

    The higher purity metal makes little or no difference when you are tossing it into a highly impure natural lake.

  • Lithium is more fun. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rrowv ( 582861 ) <rrowv1@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:23PM (#4414397)
    My dad worked for the space program on fuel cells for several years. They often had pounds and pounds of lithium to play with in the lake behind the company. They seemed to enjoy making little boats, packing them with as much lithium as they could hold, shiping them out, and throwing rocks at them until it exploded when the boat capsized. They had sodium too, but lithium made a much bigger and louder explosion.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:50PM (#4414525)
      Your dad is the reason why we'll never make it to Mars. Thanks a lot, rrowv's dad.

    • Lithium? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Erpo ( 237853 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:06PM (#4414594)
      Lithium was more reactive than sodium? It's the other way around. The reactivity of group 1A elements increases with period. Lithium is in period 2, sodium is in period 3. Cesium is the most electropositive element (i.e. the most entertaining/life-threatening when thrown into a lake) and occupies period 6. Francium (group 1A, period 7) would be more impressive, but it's so radioactive that even if you could scrape together a chunk of it, it would have decomposed into other elements before you got a chance to get it wet.

      Here's a fun site [webelements.com] with a periodic table and details on all the elements.
  • by Cyno01 ( 573917 ) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:24PM (#4414408) Homepage
    I remember sophmore year my chemistry teacher told us a story about sodium and why we couldn't use it. Apparently some years ago a student stole a whole log/rod of pure sodium and took it home with him, long story short he ended up in ICU for several weeks after shards of his toilet severd a few major arteries. He then proceded to tell us after a school board ruling all the sodium from all the schools was rounded up by the fire department to be disposed of. The fire department didn't know what to do with it. They went out to a small lake somewhere and tossed it out, the chunks of soduim skittered around the lake for quite a while and caused several thousand dollars of property damage to docks and docked boats. I'm not sure if this is true, he was a little off, but its plausible.
  • by Soko ( 17987 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:25PM (#4414411) Homepage
    This is the same guy that did the Periodic Table Table - see this story [slashdot.org] for how I got there.

    Anyway, the video of the sodium lump dancing around the lake in a chaotic and totally uncontrolled manner was fair enough warning for me. I'd hate for pure Na to hit something made of flesh. *shudder*

    So, our final reaction is:

    Curiosity(++Chemistry) + 100(Bucks) + EBay - GreyMatter => hazard 2(health) + fireworks(neato)

    Soko
  • by orcaaa ( 573643 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:30PM (#4414431)
    From personal experienced, i have discovered that "Nobody messes with Sodium". I was once i chem lab, holding a jar containing Sodium with oil(cant remember why), and managed to drop the jar spilling the sodium all over the floor and some very small amount on my legs. Now i am left with a very bad scars on both my legs. So if anyone asks me to handle sodium again, i go Na !
  • by rhodesbe ( 614799 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @10:52PM (#4414534)
    I remember reading in an OSS history book about crude time bombs that were made using wine bottles filled with water and gelatin coated tablets of Na metal and/or Potassium. The method was simple: Pop a couple of tabs in the bottle, roll it under a truck or other igniteable item, and you have a half-hour to get away before the water dissolves the tablet casing. The USAAF dropped cases to the French resistance, who used them to little or no effectiveness- not entirely unexpected French-like bevaior.
    • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @07:43AM (#4415998) Journal
      The USAAF dropped cases to the French resistance, who used them to little or no effectiveness- not entirely unexpected French-like bevaior.

      Enough already!

      Everyone knows the French are cowards, yada yada yada. Did you read that bit in the newspaper a few days ago [nytimes.com] where the French rescued all the Westerners (including several Americans) from the Ivory Coast? (And, by the way, the article fails to point out that the French had been there for several days before the American forces turned up.) Would it surprise you to learn that the French, prior to WWII, had one of the proudest and most effective resistance records in the world? Drop it, for crying out loud.

      And no, I have no affinity to France. For what it's worth, I'm from one of the few countries which has felt the effects of official state-sponsored French terrorism in the past few decades. (The bombing of the ship "Rainbow Warrior" in Auckland, New Zealand, 7 July 1985, ordered by the French Secret Service to dissuade Greenpeace from protesting continued nuclear bomb testing at Mururoa Atoll.)

      But enough with the xenophobic hatred. Considering the real wars and battles currently being fought by more than half the nations in the world, don't you think that leaving off these snide and childish insults might be rather a good idea?
  • by freakyfreak2 ( 613574 ) <jeff AT j-maxx DOT net> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:00PM (#4414562) Homepage Journal
    My HS chem teacher does that for the 4th of July at his cabin. He was the kind of teacher that did any experiment that made something blow up. Now he is in college again to become a pharmacist. I am very afraid for the world now.
  • by genomicon ( 578786 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:01PM (#4414570) Homepage Journal
    Sodium is the second lightest of the alkali earth metals. Interestingly, it is the cheapest metal money can buy. Light enough it would float on the water, if it weren't for the aforementioned explosiveness of such contact. Interestingly, the spontaneous reactivity of the alkali metals increases as a function of their weight ... cesium and francium are much more dangerous (or fun, depending on your PoV.)
  • by cthulhu2112 ( 614810 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:11PM (#4414614)
    3.5 pounds of sodium metal would not have that drastic of a long term effect on a pond. If the pond was 1000 liters in volume and had a pH of 7 (unlikely) the pH would rise to approximately 12 (1000 liters ~= 275 gallons.) A larger pond lets say 10000 (again not a very large pond/lake) gallons, with an initial pH of 7, would experience a rise in the pH of approximately 4 units. Now lets consider the fact that the water in the pond is probably buffered to some degree, the result of the sodium metal reaction would have even less effect. If the water has any metal in it to speak of, like something uncommon like calcium, or iron, or magnesium, the hydroxide ions produced by the sodium metal reaction would precipitate the metals in the water and the pH would be even less effected.
  • Say... (Score:4, Funny)

    by teslatug ( 543527 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:19PM (#4414648)
    What are the odds this guy makes it into Bush's axis of evil? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:19PM (#4414649)
    Sink a 5 gallon bucket of sodium to the bottom of the pond. Devise a way to rupture the buck when it reaches the bottom...I'd pay premium to see that on pay-per-view.
  • by unsinged int ( 561600 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:20PM (#4414656)
    I'm sure we're gonna get a lot of creative stories about sodium that aren't true, but this one is...

    First year of college, we had an explosion rock the entire dorm I was in. No one had any idea what the hell happened until someone ran through the hallway telling everyone they had to come upstairs.

    Well, I went up and saw an entire restroom covered in a fine white powder with even more powder floating in the air. There was an empty stall -- no toilet. Just a pipe (which amazingly enough was not pouring water everywhere...still can't figure that one out). There were no large chunks of ceramic (or whatever toilets are made of) or anything to be found anywhere.

    As far as I know, they never caught the guys who did it, but what happened was they flushed a good bit of sodium down the toilet. It was unbelievable to just see the pipe sitting there with no toilet attached. Even funnier was seeing the guys on the floor get rounded up and all of them saying they didn't know what happened. Somehow "I dunno, it just, like, blew up." didn't quite cut it.
  • by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig,hogger&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:20PM (#4414657) Journal
    • 3 pounds of sodium: $125.22
    • Plot of land with pond in the Ozarks: $35,330.12
    • The face of the volunteer fire chief: priceless
  • Theodore W. Gray (Score:5, Interesting)

    by captaineo ( 87164 ) on Tuesday October 08, 2002 @11:43PM (#4414744)
    This isn't just "some guy," this is Theodore Gray, who works on Mathematica at Wolfram Research and has written many excellent books about it! I highly recommend Exploring Mathematics with Mathematica [wolfram.com].

    (no this isn't a paid endorsement =)

  • "People who do stupid things with hazardous materials often die."

    --Jim Davidson (alt.folklore.urban, 11-26-1997 [google.com])

    Our friend mentioned in the linked article actually seems like a sharp cookie who knows his physical chemistry, so the "stupid things" part doesn't seem to be present. Just don't try this at home, kids....

    (and by the way, the linked usenet posting is pretty interesting)

  • by Newer Guy ( 520108 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @12:03AM (#4414812)
    In High School, a friend of mine flushed about a quarter pound of this stuff down the toilet. It made quite a *mess* when the pipes blew up inside the walls of the school. What did it say on the can: "Danger: liberates and ignites hydrogen".
  • Cheap power? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anthony_dipierro ( 543308 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @12:16AM (#4414865) Journal
    The sixth most abundant element on earth... Used by the ton in industry... A few pounds costs $100 and can blow up a building... OK, why isn't this viable as a cheap energy source?
    • Re:Cheap power? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sarig ( 450315 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @12:22AM (#4414896)
      Because it is not found as pure sodium anywhere, it is always found conbined with other elements. Refining it is pretty energy intensive.

      And then theres the problem of storing it (very reactive) and being able to control it as a power source. Too many problems make it to hard to use as a power source.
  • by KaosConMan ( 579641 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @02:09AM (#4415248)
    MIRROR HERE [cedarville.edu] Its got graphics and video! Give it a second to load. If any one else has videos I can host.

    Send to s1394119(AT)cedarville.edu and I'll gladly post them.
  • Effect on lake pH (Score:4, Interesting)

    by panurge ( 573432 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @02:50AM (#4415326)
    Rainwater is slightly acid, from nitrogen oxides, and pond water often contains acidic organics as well as bicarbonate ion. The net effect of all that sodium hydroxide is likely to be very small indeed. In fact, if you are producing what the local water company calls "trade effluent", they like the pH to be slightly alkaline and don't care whether it is sodium or calcium ion.

    Having said that, the shock waves and removal of oxygen can kill or traumatise a lot of fish and any birds near the surface. Which makes this a somewhat redneck experiment: I have no problem with people letting off big bangs, but not when they carelessly kill things in the neighborhood.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @02:54AM (#4415329) Journal

    Has anybody accused Iraq of mass-producing Sodium yet?

    After all, don't they call that mad leader "Sodium Hussein" or something like it?
  • by Oliver Wendell Jones ( 158103 ) on Wednesday October 09, 2002 @10:09AM (#4416785)
    Before moving on to my current career, I worked for about 6 months at a secondary lead refinery, where we recycled car batteries back into lead.

    The batteries were brought into what was called the breaker room, where they were smashed, the plastic case pieces would float to the top of the mix and removed for recycling, the liquid was drained off and sold, and then what was left was run through a drying kiln and then into a reverbatory furnace with molten lead coming out the other end.

    The lead was then treated with a variety of processes to either soften or harden it. This was the part that was a pyromaniac's wet dream. Imagine a refinery floor with 4 kettles of 250-300,000 pounds of molten lead each, set into the floor so that the top of the kettle is just above waist high. Then imagine that the processing of these kettles full of molten lead uses powdered sulfur, red phosphorous, a calcium-aluminum-magnesium alloy and SODIUM. That's right, they paid union steel workers to stand there and throw paper lunch sacks full of powdered red phosphorous into a swirling kettle of molten lead. Oh yeah...

    I was a Q.C. technician, so it was my job to sample the lead, test it's content and then write orders for the union guys to follow as to how much of each material to add.

    Now, back to the sodium story... remember the breaker room where they smashed the batteries? That room was as big as a medium-sized airplane hanger, all metal construction with a cement floor. The floor was usually covered by up to an inch of a weak sulfuric acid solution that leaked from the battery crushing equipment. Less than a hundred yards away was a storage room containing 25 gallon drums of large chunks of metallic sodium. One day one of the guys called me over, pulled out a large knife and sliced off a chunk of sodium about the size of a baseball, and I then followed him to the entrance of the battery crusher room. He wiggled his eyebrows, which was about all the expression you can display behind a respirator, safety glasses and a face shield, and then threw that chunk of sodium into the middle of the room.

    KABLOOIE!

    Sodium reacts when it contacts water, because it disassociates a Hydrogen and an Oxygen atom from the water molecule leaving one free Hydrogen atom which then ignites from the heat generated by the reaction. Now, imagine if instead of water (H2O) you instead used a mixture of H2O and H2S04. More hydrogen! More oxygen! Bigger boom! Heck, you can throw just about any metal into Sulfuric Acid and start liberating small amounts of Hydrogen, so something like Sodium is just overkill.

    Luckily we were wearing those big ear-muff style hearing protectors, or we would have been deafened. The explosion was unbelievable and nearly knocked us over from 20+ feet away, and we weren't even in the same room where it happened.

    The most amazing part of the story is that no one even noticed. There were so many loud noises and other distractions that a deafeningly loud bang was no reason for people to even look up.

    If it hadn't been for the fact that the company was an environmental disgrace (the president and several managers were indicted a year or so after I left for dumping water with lead dust in it into the local sewer system) and a safety nightmare (I've never seen a place with so many 'first aid incidents' before, and I hope to never again), it was a great job for $21,000 a year... of course that was 1998, so $21,000 seemed like a lot of money at the time...

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