When you think of technology, you probably think of computers and jet engines and such. But there are other feats of engineering that are equally sophisticated, just less obviously so. Instant Kool-Aid, for example.
Oil and water don't mix: it's an old saying, but it's never more true than when you're talking about a pot of hot cooking oil and the moisture condensed on the surface of a frozen turkey. it's pretty incredible the amount of fire that simple combination can create.
Cooking oil is flammable, but it doesn't catch fire in a deep fryer because it never approaches the approximately 800°F required.
Running down the far-left column of the periodic table, the readily available alkali metals: lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium and cesium—all generate potentially explosive hydrogen gas when they touch water. The strength with which they react with H2O goes up steadily in the order listed. Lithium just sizzles, whereas cesium explodes powerfully and instantly. You’d expect that to mean that cesium makes the biggest explosion, but it’s not the case.
For as long as I can remember, I've loved gunpowder. One of my fondest childhood memories is pulling down volume G of the encyclopedia and seeing the formula for this magic substance for the first time. Saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal, listed with exact percentages! That was heady stuff for a kid who had been forced to rely on collecting match heads for flammable material. But where to get the ingredients? I settled on hitting up pharmacists, telling one that my mom had sent me out to get saltpeter for canning, and a different one that she'd sent me out for sulfur and I didn't know why (because I couldn't think of a better cover story).
When you need to remove a tree stump, you have several options. Sissies call a tree service. Tough guys loop a chain around the stump, hook it to the bumper of their truck, and find out which one is stronger. Others use gunpowder to blow them up, though this is not advisable in most jurisdictions (unless your cousin is the sheriff and you let him watch). But my favorite method is to convert the stump itself into gunpowder and then burn it up. That is the secret behind how chemical stump remover works.
Pushing back the night with light of our own making was the first and greatest of humankind's achievements. What a thrill it must have been to discover that the setting sun no longer had to mean darkness and fear. We've come a long way since that first campfire, but it's just recently that technology has topped the most advanced form of open-flame light.
Most people probably don’t think of Corning as a crime fighting company, but when it sold its Pyrex brand to World Kitchen in 1998, the company accidentally made the illegal manufacture of crack cocaine more difficult—a fascinating example of unintended consequences.
Ordinary glass shatters if it’s heated too quickly: Pour boiling water into a common flintglass tumbler, and it’s likely to fall apart seconds later. The glass on the inside expands when it gets hot, putting stress on the cold glass on the outside. When the stress gets too great, it cracks.
On July 2, 2007, Scott Showalter climbed into a manure pit on his Virginia farm to clear a blocked pipe. Moments later, he fainted and died. An employee of his went in to save him but was quickly overcome as well. One by one, his two daughters and wife followed, only to die trying to save the people who went before them.
Every month for the past seven years, I've undertaken some experiment—entertaining you, dear readers, by risking my life with dangerous chemicals. But this month I conducted an experiment of an entirely different kind: I went in front of a live audience on a popular Japanese variety show and risked their lives with dangerous chemicals.