Pop Vulture

Science on the Web: Don't Try This at Home

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Two million YouTube viewers recently sought the answer to the question, "Can water burn?"

A brief but entertaining instructional film that hovered around the top of the site's "Most Viewed" list all week demonstrated how, with just a couple of AA batteries, a match and a nice cool glass of H20, you can create a mini version of the River Styx in your kitchen.

For many, though, even more exciting than the sight of eau flambe was the debate over whether the whole thing was a hoax. Many commenters questioned the true motivation behind the filmmaker's posting of a "Don't Try This!" disclaimer -- before YouTube yanked the video, noting it had "been removed due to terms of use violation." (A duplicate of the original film was posted Monday by a different user and can be seen at http://youtube.com/watch?v=ApNYP_E_P4Y.)

But this is only the latest amazing science experiment/parlor trick to make a stir on the Web. Other visually spectacular feats that may be the result of creative science or good old-fashioned hucksterism:

Radioactive Mountain Dew? With the addition of just a little baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, the favorite drink of base jumpers turns into an eerie green light source -- less X Games, more "X-Files." The simplicity of this experiment practically begs viewers to take a stab at it, and by the look of the user responses, a whole lot have -- with very different results from what the filmmaker achieved.

Video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=wrXW8p5-v5Q.

Crystalized milk? Baking soda and citric concentrate added to a cup of milk and honey transform the creamy liquid into a pile of sugar crystals before your eyes. Something smells sour here, and it's not just the freaky milk. With several lengthy steps (the powder mixture has to sit in a freezer for 24 hours, the honey has to be heated in a cup of hot water, etc.), the filmmaker seems keen on getting followers to waste as much of their time as possible trying to duplicate his experiment. And some did.

Video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=G29ZvPZuxqM&NR=1.

Glowing tomato. The process here is complicated enough to make most armchair scientists back off (it requires scraping the phosphorous from match heads and using syringes to inject fluids into the fruit), but it's incredibly cool to watch. The result -- a tomato that shines as brightly as any Christmas tree topper -- may be freaky, but it looks real.

Video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=MWVmp3eN-Vg.

Instant ice. Apparently, if sodium acetate, a chemical salt, is dissolved in near-boiling water and the mixture is cooled, that water will then solidify with the touch of a finger. The physical transformation is so fascinating, it almost looks like a CGI effect. But science appears to be on the side of this nifty trick: Plenty of other amateur ice sculptors have filmed themselves playing Mr. Freeze just as successfully.

Video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=dIZmU-QESFg.

-- Christopher Healy

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