The copper earring you see here had already been glowing bright orange for half an hour when we took the photograph. There is no flame under it, no electric current through it. Underneath is a pool of volatile and highly flammable acetone, but the liquid is not on fire. So where is the heat coming from?
Acetone vapor and oxygen from the air are combining and releasing heat on the surface of the copper, at a much lower temperature than acetone normally burns (but still hot enough to make the earring glow). The copper provides a sort of backdoor that overcomes the resistance (called the activation energy) that normally prevents acetone from reacting, except at higher temperatures.
Copper enables the reaction, but it is not consumed by it. (The earring can keep doing this indefinitely without being used up.) That property defines what it means to be a catalyst.
The most familiar examples of catalysts are the catalytic converters in cars, which finish the incomplete combustion of gasoline using platinum or palladium. Catalysts are important long before the gas makes it to the car, too. Platinum and rhenium are used to "reform" crude oil: to rearrange hydrocarbons into the specific molecules that make up gasoline.
Catalysts greatly reduce the energy, time and complexity of equipment required to do the reforming, and thus make the process far more efficient. In this sense, catalysis can be very green, which seems ironic when describing anything about the petroleum industry. In fact, catalysts can reduce energy use in a wide range of other large-scale chemical manufacturing processes as well.
I like the commonly used slogan "a catalyst for change" because it's a rare example of a phrase that is scientifically perfect. It describes an organization that makes things happen while continuing unchanged in its mission. That, in simple terms, is exactly what catalysts do.
tried this at work with different results, it didnt work. can you be more specific as to what type of acetone you used, and the copper to other metal percentages used in the earring. i used electrical copper (pure?) and crown acetone. only difference i can see between mine and yours, you may have more copper surface area than i had. i placed it in a non-drafty area, added the paper (or whatever it is) to the sides of the glass, and if it counts, i used a whiskey glass.
Is this safe to try? Should we be concerned at all that the highly flammable acetone has a red hot ignition source dangling over it? Or the copper not hot enough to cause a problem?
In order for this to work the copper needs to be heated originally and then placed in the acetone, the catalyst just allows the copper to remain heated. Other examples of this have the copper suspended near the acetone but not touching it.
So they've invented a perpetual motion machine? They say the copper is not consumed but enables the reaction. How is that possible?
@rettaH_daM "So they've invented a perpetual motion machine?"
No. The energy comes from the chemical reaction between the acetone and water vapor, which are consumed in the reaction. The copper only speeds the rate of reaction and is not consumed.
what is the paper?
I believe the paper is paper towel. It is absorbing the acetone to evenly distribute the chemical reaction.
Dear Mr. Gray,
For the second time in two days I have let my two little girls down. First day, I admit, I was foolish and tried an experiment that I found online. My mistake.
I promised them the following night I would have an experiment that would make up for the failed experiment. I had faith in popular science. You FAILED to mention that the copper had to be heated BEFORE the experiment would work. Please stop feeding us bull shit. People, unfortunately, still count on some of the things they read.
Mr. Gray probably omitted that bit of information at the behest of the Popular Mechanics legal staff so as to prevent ignoramuses from burning their down their homes.
I agree, M80s and cherry bombs got banned because of dumb kids and their irresponsible parents who put fireworks in their hands and got their jaws/fingers blown off.
The Copper butterfly is looking nice and very innovative experiment it was. But form where you supplied the current in that? i would like to know..
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