Boiling Water to Blistering Vapor..the Classic Below Zero Experiment

It’s the dead of winter in the Midwest and the term “arctic blast” has been thrown around quite a few times—which means one thing…boredom! Sure, the appeal of having a day off school and/or work is great until about 11:30 a.m. when you realize it’s -12 degrees outside which means any expectation of shopping, sledding, or running errands is out the window. While being stuck at home has a downside, there is also an upside, with boredom comes curiosity and with curiosity comes experimentation and where there’s experimentation, there’s science!

SnowScience

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Though we don’t encourage you do to the following experiment at home, as our professional educators have the experience, safety equipment, and space to experiment in (literally) freezing cold temperatures, the “boiling water to snow” experiment is a popular one — especially on YouTube, but why? Perhaps because the same thing you use to cook a steaming plate of spaghetti turns to “snow” virtually instantly. Impressive, right? But what is actually happening? Here’s the science behind it:

The boiling water is closer to evaporating than cold water, so when you throw very hot water into very cold, dry air, the smaller droplets are able to cool off and evaporate rapidly into a cloud before it reaches the ground. What you are actually seeing isn’t the formation of snow, but rather boiling water that evaporates into a vaporous cloud. This experiment works best when the air and dew point are below zero (so we were in luck today!).

Weather is way cool – no pun intended — especially when you can experiment, but we must admit that in these kind of temperatures that we can wait for a summertime liquid nitrogen ice cream experiment, but for now we’ll just have to enjoy the chilly weather and we hope you do to!

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