Burning Ping Pong Balls – Periodic Table of Videos

published on July 20, 2020

One of our most faithful fans Andres came to visit us a few months ago bringing us all sorts of chemical goodies including a couple of Chinese ping-pong balls which he said burnt really well and of course anything that burns is irresistible to neil our

Technician the interesting thing about this is that although burning a ping-pong ball is a fun experiment it has quite an interesting lesson about many chemical experiments I've never tried to burn a ping-pong ball and I

Don't even know if they're all made from the same material but these particular ones appear to be made out of cellulose nitrate or something very similar cellulose nitrate is cellulose from plant material that has been treated

With nitric acid and is very similar to gun cotton the explosive that we've made the video about before oh that's pretty impressive and because it contains a nitrate group nitrogen oxygen it has available oxygen

Within the structure to help it burn and nitrogen atoms which can combine to release heat when it forms n2 nitrogen gas it is also useful because you can easily mold it into smooth shapes like a ping-pong ball

The reason why I think this experiments really interesting is because it combines both physics and chemistry in chemistry the underlying reaction will always be the same when you burn the ball it is going to turn into co2 water

And nitrogen gas but the interesting thing is that as a chemist you have to be able to distinguish between what is the underlying chemistry and what is the chance physics and in Neil's experiment we've got a beautiful demonstration of

That essentially he took the two balls one after the other and put a gas torch to it so they caught fire ostensibly the experiments were identical but in detail of course they're not because he may have touched the torch on

The slightly different part on the ball slightly lower or slightly higher because it's in a fume cupboard the wind might have been blowing slightly differently on the two occasions so what happens is the way that the flame

Spreads on the balls are quite different if you were doing the experiment you might say well it's completely irreproducible you don't get the same result twice but the chemical result is the same

You still get co2 water and steam and nitrogen but the way the flame spreads is different and the first one that was done the the ball melted and this little flaming bit fell down the other one burnt almost completely away with a

Looked a bit like a flaming space capsule or something like that with the flames coming out one side and all that was left was really a tiny tiny little bit one really has to become almost romantic looking at the flames because

The way the flame spreads is really beautiful especially when it is slowed down you can see the swirling of the flame and how it spreads and sometimes scientists can be a bit analytical and they forget just how beautiful some of

The things are that we observe in the lab brady gets really cross he says i bring my family into every video but i think this time I have a real excuse because the ping-pong balls which I knees and ping pong is a fantastically

Popular game in China and my mother's cousin eivol Montagu who died many years ago and you can see his picture here is the person who introduced ping pong as a national sport into China he wrote the rules for international

Ping pong and there's recently in a book published about him which talks about how ping-pong became important in the diplomacy between China and the United States it was all due to my mother's

Cousin even want to go so there is a connection

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