Don't Try This at Home: How to Stick Your Hand in Liquid Nitrogen

By Joseph Calamia | August 30, 2010 5:55 pm

liquidnitrogenRemember those high school liquid nitrogen demonstrations? You know, the one where your teacher dipped a banana into the cloudy stuff, pulled it out, and then shattered it on the floor?

Well, Popular Science blogger Theodore Gray recently decided to stick in his hand. As you can see in a video over on their site, his hand survived the encounter. Though he stressed, and we reiterate, that this really isn’t a good idea unless you know what you’re doing, or unless you want your friends to call you Captain Hook, sticking your hand in the cold stuff isn’t necessarily a recipe for digit removal.

Since Gray’s hand was much warmer than the liquid nitrogen (which checks in at around negative 320 degrees Fahrenheit), the hand instantly created a layer of evaporated nitrogen gas–which shielded his skin, temporarily, from frostbite. Gray says on his blog:

“The phenomenon is called the Leidenfrost effect (after Johann Gottlob Leidenfrost, the doctor who first studied it in 1756). I’d known about it for years, but when it came time to test it in real life, I have to admit that I used my left hand, the one I’d miss less.”

For more videos of people doing questionable things in the name of science, check out DISCOVER’s new show Joe Genius.

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Image: flickr / Lee Gillen

  • Brian Too

    I can intellectually agree all I want. My hand won’t get damaged, it’s the Leidenfrost effect. My emotional brain wouldn’t let me put my hand in no-how!

  • Aaron

    I preform demonstrations with liquid nitrogen for the physics department at the University of Cincinnati. After freezing and shattering balloons, roses, etc. I always stick my hand in just to shock the audience.

    However, I have not yet tried this:

  • Bee

    I guess if you don’t speak German you might miss the irony of the name “Leidenfrost.” It’s not actually a word, but “Leiden” means “suffer” and “frost” means “freeze.”

  • Chris

    I’ve done lots of fun things with liquid nitrogen as a high school science teacher. I’ve dipped my hand in. I’ve done the “drinking” thing (as pointed out by Aaron). But the kids get the biggest kick when I take a graham cracker, dip it in for a few seconds, then eat it, with LN2 “fumes” coming out my nose. Then there’s the “freeze the goldfish and bring it back to life” bit that gets lots of attention.

    If you’re on Facebook, you can check out some of the liquid nitrogen videos in the “Mr. Becke’s Physics Classroom” group (not all featuring me). (and also see me in a faraday cage at the Singapore science museum, getting shocked by a giant Tesla coil)!/group.php?gid=97394756734&v=app_2392950137

  • Martin White

    Could you show the same thing in a a live video stream on a certain time?
    I’d really like to see it. I myself usually use ustream or maybe they’lle help ya.
    If yould be willing to do it then let me know, I’d be 100% there to watch it.


  • nitrogen gas

    Nitrogen condenses at its boiling point , -195°c to a colorless and odorless liquid that is lighter than water.


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