A Scientist’s April Fools


Warning: Don’t do this at home!  When a scientist decides to play an April Fools prank on someone, it gets pretty serious.  We pull out all the stops.  One experiment that is guaranteed to both terrify and delight is the classic alcohol money burn.

The experiment is pretty simple.  Mix some rubbing alcohol and water until your solution is about 50% alcohol.  Take a bill (we would recommend a small one in case something goes bad) and dip it into the alcohol.  Get any excess liquid off of the bill so that it isn’t dripping,  Light it on fire!

IMG_0086

Whoa!

The amazing thing about this experiment is that the money doesn’t actually burn.  The fire goes out after a few seconds and the bill is unharmed.  April Fools!  But why?  The secret lies in the water.  The water mixed in with the alcohol is what is absorbing the heat of the fire, not the money.  If the bill was soaked in pure alcohol it would be roasted in seconds.  But water has a really good specific heat, meaning it takes a lot of energy to heat it up.  The alcohol doesn’t burn hot enough to overcome this specific heat,  and as a result the money stays safe.

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