Sodium and other alkali explosions finally explained | Science News

Real Science. Real News.

Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.


Sodium and other alkali explosions finally explained

Before a blast, metals bristle as electrons flee

11:06am, January 26, 2015
camera filming experimental setup

CHEMICAL BLOCKBUSTER  Film of a fiery reaction explains the surprising trigger for a classic explosion.

View the video

Lights, camera, kaboom! With snapshots from a high-speed camera, chemists can finally explain why sodium and other alkali metals blow up in water.

Just before the explosion, spikes burst from the metal’s smooth surface, setting off a chain reaction that ignites the metal. The blast’s film debut, appearing online January 26 in Nature Chemistry, offers a long-awaited explanation of a classic chemical reaction demonstrated in classrooms worldwide.

“What we found out is that there's a crucial piece of the puzzle that precedes the explosion,” says computational chemist Pavel Jungwirth of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague.

In textbooks, chemists describe the reaction in simple terms. Alkali metals, a group of elements including potassium and sodium, are highly reactive. In a splash of water, the metal

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now.
Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content