Whoa! Sealed-Up Liquid Nitrogen Creates a Ping-Pong-Plosion!

By Sophie Bushwick | September 22, 2012 10:00 am


Do not put liquid nitrogen in a sealed container. Without an outlet, the liquid will turn into a gas, pressure will build up extremely quickly, and BOOM! The whole thing will explode. But as you can see in the above video, with a few safety precautions—and 1500 ping-pong balls—Roy Lowry of Plymouth University managed to turn this phenomenon into an unforgettable learning experience.

  • bew!

    A funny story about my learning experience with liquid nitrogen…

    Working with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit headquatertered out of Jakarta, Indonesia, I was transporting a container of liquid nitrogen to our field lab in the Arso region of Irian Jaya. As noted in this article, the nitrogen had to be in a container that would vent the gas to the outside should it become agitate, and to assure a cushioned ride, I planned to take it aboard the plane as a carry on. So I placed it on the conveyor belt for the xray machine along with my briefcase that contained, among other things, my electric razor. Unfortunately, the container was just slightly too tall to fit through the opening to the xray, to as it traveled on the conveyor belt to enter the xray chamber, it tipped over and fell onto my briefcase, which in turn tipped over with a jar. Simultaneously, a cloud of vapor issued from the nitrogen tank container at the same time that my electric razor turned on with a loud buzzing sound. The Indonesian Security Force was on top of it, with me pinioned to the deck within a moment. They were NOT amused. But I learned my lesson – don’t try to take a container of liquid nitrogen through a airport xray machine, and if you do, be real nice to the Security folks.

  • Chris

    Who gets to clean up that mess?

  • Ben

    Youtube says the video was removed by owner.

  • Joseph

    This video has been removed by the user :(

  • vel

    the video comes up as “removed by the user”.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Good news, everyone! Sophie found a new, functional version of the video. All is once again well.

    Thanks for multiple heads-ups.

  • Jon

    When I was an undergrad at Caltech in the early 1980s, the campus LN2 tank was openly accessible and you could sign out LN2 on your student account. Led to many fun pranks such as freezing the annoying roommate’s bed, and more classically the annual supercooled pumpkin drop from the top of Millikan Library, which would sometimes generate a lovely blue flash (probably a triboluminescence phenomenon). Dry ice works nearly as well for the exploding bottle trick and is much more accessible. But the ping-pong balls were a nice touch.

  • Z

    The video is still down.

  • John

    They are not too bright at Plymouth University. Let the knowledge be shared, don’t block it. Idiots!

  • Morne

    Umm… it’s still gone for me…

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Gah, the user took the second one down, too. Anyone see a different upload somewhere?

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Aaand we’re back. Again.


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