Feel Like Watching a Leaf Cause an Explosion?
By Esther Inglis-Arkell
Manganese heptoxide is a compound with seven oxygen molecules. It’s always ready to lend a few out, which is why it’s called an oxidizer. Oxidization is another word for burning. It oxidizes so spontaneously that nearly any contact with an organic molecule will set it off. You can see it explode with a leaf and paper, as well as drops of butane.
It’s Friday, and every Friday deserves a little explosion or two … Fireday!
I like that this video is called “Lighting Stuff On Fire With Mn2O7”.
All fire is basically oxidation, which is a fancy chemistry word that sort of complicates the process. Fire wants oxygen, but the question in various forms of combustion is what is providing the oxygen? In a campfire, it’s coming from the air. When we strike a match, as we saw in this super-awesome video a couple months ago, the oxygen comes from potassium chlorate.
In this video, the oxygen comes from a very angry and unstable molecule, and the results are amazing.
What about when someone strikes a lighter “flint” or a firesteel? Firesteels are made of a combination of cerium (Ce) and iron (Fe), which (in their pure forms) like to burn when exposed to oxygen. Iron is usually not thought of as explosive because it has a pretty high combustion temperature. The cerium helps get that reaction going, since it ignites at a lower temperature.
So check out the whoa-inducing slow-motion GIF of sparking firesteel below, when the handheld scraper exposes tiny flecks of the “ferrocerium”. It’s sparks galore!!