Hot charcoal + liquid oxygen = fun science experiment in slow-mo (video)

I love this stuff. Science has always thrilled me, and all the more fun when there’s a chance of something exploding.

The University of Nottingham – one hopes of “sheriff of” fame – decided to do a little experiment with dropping hot coal into liquid oxygen, and watching what happens, all filmed in slow-motion.

And I love that they got an actual mad scientist to do the experiment, hair and all.


Oxygen liquifies at -299.2 degrees Fahrenheit (-184 Celsius). And I suspect they used liquid oxygen instead of liquid nitrogen (which liquifies at -322.6 Fahrenheit) out of concern that the nitrogen would boil, produce Nitrogen gas, and simply extinguish the charcoal.

Instead, they got some interesting results, where the charcoal first bounced, then seemed to jump around the pot, growing brighter and dimmer, back and forth.


It’s a neat video, for those of you who are science-minded, or simply like to potentially watch things blow up :)

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  • samizdat

    Wha-? Yes, I know they’re carbon. How my statement could be construed with smugness is beyond me, but you just go on thinking that. As for contempt, you will note that I said I was unimpressed by the rocks’ use as gemstones, which is more of an observation regarding their use as a commodity, and maintained as a monopoly, by deBeers.

    Yes, I’m a geek, and I find many things fascinating, and whether something is intriguing in the whole, or broken down into its constituent parts, it’s all the same to me. Being an architecture buff, I can parse over a design by Louis Kahn, or Frank Lloyd Wright, or the amazing variety of the St. Louis brick vernacular, looking for what makes a building a building, and wonder at the craftsmanship which was employed to erect it, but I can also step back and admire the sheer beauty inherent in the whole. I can go on a hike with my wife, and be gobsmacked (and startled out of my pants) by the sight and sound of one pair of turkeys, and one pair of red-tailed hawks suddenly taking flight in the middle of a forest. But I can also wonder at the millions of years of evolutionary movement which brought all six of us to the same spot in time and space.

    Are diamonds pretty? Yes. But I’m also aware that they are not rare, in fact, and the only thing making them as valuable as they are is the monopolistic control deBeers has over the marketing of them as gemstones.

    You really have no idea who I am, so please, don’t presume to know the who, what, why, or where of my mind. You won’t get very far, anyway.

  • deblacksmith

    Nothing new here, been done by engineering students at Purdue, many years ago – fastest way to light a charcoal grill — melted the grill.

  • Asterix

    Back in the early days of the web, a fellow by the name of George Goble from Purdue provided some of the more interesting early web content by posting information about lighting a charcoal barbecue using liquid oxygen. Dave Barry wrote about it.

    Wikipedia has an article on iGoble and his LOX barbecue.

    Ya gotta love engineers…

  • Monoceros Forth

    Yeah, I had to look it up on though since I don’t think his name is ever actually given in any of the clips.

  • KingCranky

    If you want further examples of physics made easy, go to youtube and enter the name Julius Sumner Miller, his presentations only take about 12 minutes each.

    Very cool stuff.

  • Is that his name? I was surprised that I could not find his name on the videos.

  • Monoceros Forth

    I’ve come across some of Dr. Poliakoff’s videos before. He’s really good and always has fascinating demonstrations. I like the one where the tendency of various materials to burn spontaneously in a current of elemental fluorine to be particularly interesting.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Ugh, another geek smug about diamonds. Hurf durf they’re just carbon! In a similar spirit can a sunset be dismissed as mere scattered light and a rare butterfly as just some collection of organic compounds. Anything can look unimpressive when viewed from a perspective of deliberate contempt.

  • samizdat

    There was a PBS program on diamonds a few years ago. They heated a diamond to 5000F, then dropped it into a large bowl of liquid oxygen (I think it was oxygen). The glowing diamond raced in circles around the bowl for a several seconds, then disappeared into vapor. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. As well, if I hadn’t already been unimpressed by the ‘allure’ of diamonds as gemstones, this would have sealed the deal.

  • Okay, I’m just a dummy. LOL Thanks, will update that.

  • gnothis

    It is Nottingham as in the sheriff of Nottingham, but the forest is Sherwood.

  • Ugh, sorry, it’s there now.

  • LOL

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I had already gone to You Tube to find it. Then I found this:
    “Water Boiling at Everest – Periodic Table of Videos”

  • Naja pallida

    Mad scientist? Isn’t that Bernie Sanders? :)

  • dddavid
  • dddavid


  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I guess I’m having a bad day, but I can’t find a video.

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