Lithium and books

Books first. The Christmas anthology is complete, just waiting for one author to come back with any last minute changes (to be fair, it’s less than 48 hours since I sent that PDF out) and then I’m back on the next novel in line. Underdog Anthology 19 is called ‘Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas’ and I have two main options for the cover, which I will post here for a vote.

And now lithium. This is right at the top of the Periodic Table and it’s an incredibly reactive metal. Very very dangerous indeed in its pure form. It’s used in many kinds of batteries now, especially rechargeable ones, and those batteries are hard to get rid of safely when they die.

When I was in school, in the seventies, we had some wonderfully deranged chemistry teachers (there was a lunatic physics teacher too, who let us loose with all kinds of things young teenagers shouldn’t have been trusted with, but more on that another time). There was never a boring chemistry lesson.

One of these chemistry teachers showed us 12-year-olds how water is formed. He had a cone shaped thing on a stand, pumped in one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, lit the top and ran to the back of the class. There was a whine that declined in pitch until BLAM, the thing popped and fell over. It was great.

Another chemistry teacher explained the first column of the periodic table by taking tiny slices of potassium and sodium and dropping them into water. They burst into flame. You can’t extinguish these fires with water. Water just makes them burn faster.

That teacher explained, somewhat crestfallen, that he wasn’t allowed to show us the lithium reaction because lithium was far too dangerous to have in a classroom. It would burn on contact with air, and burn even more fiercely in contact with water. He did have lumps of pure phosphorus though. That was fun.

So, we learned that setting fire to hydrogen and oxygen produced water, a totally harmless substance that puts out fires – unless it is combined with the metals in the first column of the periodic table in which case it becomes something that can burn.

Consider: these chemistry teachers were quite happy to let us have access to things like pure ethanol and cyclohexamide and even to distil ethanol-dissolved compounds using a gas flame from a Bunsen burner. There was a really funny day when one kid didn’t have his ground glass joints sealed properly. Those teachers showed us how to produce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen triiodide and other things that would get you on a terrorist watch list in these modern feeble days. In physics class, we etched circuit boards using ferric chloride. Unsupervised, often. They’d let us loose with stuff that could kill us all and they’d go for a cup of tea. Maybe they didn’t really like us.

But even these lunatics weren’t allowed to play with lithium. We could light magnesium ribbon and watch it burn. We could poke mercury around the bench tops with our fingers. We could watch sodium and potassium react violently with water, and phosphorus with air. We could pour cyclohexamide into a sink and set fire to it (well, the teachers weren’t around for that one, nor for the time we filled the Bunsen tubes with water) but we were not allowed to see a lithium reaction.

Might give you an idea just how bad a lithium reaction really is. It is, really, exceptionally bad. And it takes very little to start it.

The internet is full of videos of electric vehicles spontaneously combusting. Lithium is so reactive that you just need a pinhole in a battery to get it started and then there is absolutely no way to stop it. Pour water on it and it just reacts faster.

YouTube has videos of people puncturing lithium batteries and the resulting firestorms. I have a few dead lithium batteries here, mostly from dead tablets, but if I do decide to film their puncturing I’m not doing it with a hammer and spike. I’ll do it with a crossbow from a safe distance. I like my fingers and don’t intend to lose any for the sake of a few YouTube upvotes.

Most of those sleek, low slung modern sporty electric dodgems have the batteries in the floor. Drive one up the farm track here and your arse will be on fire before you get to the house. I have a high ground clearance car for a very good reason, the farm track will rip the bottom off most modern town cars.

I do not ever want to sit on top of a slab of lithium batteries. If it starts to burn it’ll be very fast. You’d need Bruce Lee reaction times to get out of there.

The only use I’d have for an electric car would be if its dead battery were removed. I’d put a diesel generator in the back and rig it directly to the electric motors. Diesel-electric motive power, like a lot of railway engines.

Oh and you know the thing about diesel engines? They’ll run on vegetable oils. That’s what they were originally designed to run on.

And that’s why they don’t want you to have them 😉

23 thoughts on “Lithium and books

  1. I’m so impressed by how attentive you were in science classes Kev. I mostly enjoyed when our physics teacher brought his guitar in to show off his prowess with it (he never made the charts as far as I’m aware!)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Can barely recall anything from my Physics/Chemistry lessons, somehow managed to get O levels in both blowed if i know how.
    The physics Master was broad Cheshire, Macclesfield, sound chap, but his lessons weren’t half as dangerous or as much fun as the chemistry Master.

    You can take to the bank we here won’t be having a battery car either.

    By the time our cars eventually die, hopefully years away because i overservice and annually rustproof them religiously, the WEF disciples currently running the country into the sewers will have taxed us proles who actually work for a living and are net contributors off the road anyway, we’d both rather walk than be forced by that scum, whom i wouldn’t urinate on were they alight, to follow their latest scam.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Think you’re wrong there. IIRC (and I “did” bucket chemistry when young), the reactivity of alkali metals increases down the periodic table. Lithium fizzes as it scuttles around, floating on the surface, sodium more so and potassium is very reactive. I once dropped a sugar lump sized lump of potassium, spiked on the end of a nail, out of my bedroom window into a bucket of water. Bang it went 🙂
    Can’t remember whether I bought the potassium (as you could in those days, from Koch Lite or Gallankamp) or stole it from school…
    Happy days 🙂
    PS: after I started to write this from memory, I Duck-Ducked “alkali metals in water” and was pleased that my memory of 50 years ago was confirmed re reactivity.

    Liked by 3 people

    • gareth is correct – the alkali earth (Group I) metals increase in reactivity as they go down, with lithium being the *least* reactive. From schooldays everyone should recall that the “cesium in water” experiment was only ever shown via VHS on ‘the big TV’, and this is not just due to the cost 🙂

      Group I elements have a single electron in their outer shell, which is a jolly unstable state to be in and they want to become stable by getting rid of that electron and forming a positive ion; the resulting outer shell of electrons being fully populated (whatever it’s size) and very stable.

      However, the electronegativity of the atom hinders losing this electron. From the point of view of the outer electron the nucleus is positively charged (very positive, but ‘shielded’ by the inner electron shells); that electron is attracted to it and this attraction means it takes energy to prise it out of the shell. Going down Group I on the Periodic Table, elements gain more positive charge on their nuclei but there are correspondingly more electrons to cancel out that increase – and *the outer shell electron becomes progressively further away from it*. As charge attractions enjoy a 1/r^2 relationship, it thus becomes easier and easier to remove the outer shell electron – resulting in higher reactivity.

      There’s a reasonable description here:

      Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right – I just remember things going bang. I didn’t follow on with chemistry after school, I went all biological instead. The first year at university included chemisty, biochemistry and microbiology (I was there for microbiology). That first year of chemistry didn’t involve a single explosion. It was most tedious.

      Liked by 2 people

    • We used to steal Mercury Metal from school. The experiment to demonstrate Torricelli’s Barometer was the good one for that. I think the school must have had about half a hundredweight of Mercury in that cylindrical basin. God knows how much it once have cost…

      While Mr Collington wasn’t looking, or writing something on the blackboard…..

      ….We’d cup a little from the vat into our palms and slip it into our jacket pockets. Most of it – well, that’s relative, depending on what your pocket was made of – would still be there when we got home, and we could teaspoon it out into a little jar in our bedrooms…

      I still have some. I teach with it sometimes, but I _do not open_ the container in front of students. @Elf’n’safety, you know…

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes, those were the fun science days. While I was remembering the chemistry teacher who set her bench on fire It occurred to me that she was the same one who filled the room with chlorine. My, how we laughed, cried, gasped and vomited at that one . . .

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The Mother Superior took our Chemistrt Lessons. She was a hoot! All her lessons were riveting, the best teacher I have ever seen. She inspired me to become a teacher. Chemistry was the most dramatically entertaining event. I don’t remember a thing except the fireworks. She had no fear, and no regard for ‘laws’ controlling what you could or could not do in a classroom to teach. Our lessons took place all around the convent grounds, including in the middle of the night if she thought necessary. I must be unique in absolutely LOVING high school in a Dominican Convent. (in Africa) I remember one thing verbatim that she said to me as I pfaffed around with my hair in a mirror. She said ” Dont worry about it. Beauty is common nowadays, makeup is so cheap.” She laughed a great deal and roared with laughter every time there was an explosion in our classroom that brought all the nuns running. Chemistry was fun. We all did well in the exams. Even me. That’s REAL teaching. Never heard of Lithium though.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. We made Nitrogen Tri-iodide with the chemistry teacher’s help. Then, without him knowing our intentions, we spread it out to dry on the ‘teachers’ path’. Regretfully the photos have been lost, but I still laugh at the memory of a teacher jumping about like a firecracker as his shoes set it off!
    And, aged 9, a huge cloud of chlorine surrounding a teacher, who suggested quietly but firmly that we should all leave the room.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m sure we did experiments with lithium during chemistry lessons.
    Chemistry lessons during the seventies was great fun as our teacher Mr Fitch showed us similar experiments including how to distil spirits, make explosions and generally create mayhem. Great teacher.
    I do remember one pupil from my class who managed to blow out the wall in his bedroom after he’d acquired various materials from a late night unauthorised visit to the school labs. Being Irish (1970’s) didn’t help as the police took a keen interest in his activities. Sadly, the school tightened up the curriculum after that.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. If I remember correctly, the big issue with Li-ion batteries is that as they combust, the breakdown of part of the battery chemicals releases oxygen. So once it’s lit, is a bugger to put out. Spraying water on it just cools it until the fire goes out, but the reaction continues, producing more heat and more oxygen until it decides to spontaneously combust again.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I had a great chemistry teacher at school. He was a young Greek fella called something between Tesla and Tesseract, but I can’t exactly remember his name now. Mostly because we referred to him as Mr Testicles, but then teenagers can be cruel and silly at times, no doubt due to the abundance chemical messengers running rampant through their bodies at that age.

    The lithium/water reaction was the introductory experiment Mr Testicles showed on day one of chemistry class. He said it would wow us, and it did 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I delight in making Nitrogen-tri-Iodide for my students, and giving small (wet) samples to them, to take home, and annoy their parents with, without warming.

    It featured on “Brainiac” once, as “Peter Logan’s Exploding Paste”… _”Made with Iodine… and a Secret Ingredient!”_ …

    The students really appreciate it.

    I sometimes make “other stuff” for them. But I will not tell you on here what those things are.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. My (straight from OU central casting, even to the beard, pink sleeveless sweater, and sandals) chemistry teacher, literally, changed my life. Quiet, shy, extreme introvert (probably would be somewhere on “the spectrum” nowadays), academic but unable/unwilling to ‘participate’, found a ‘calling’.

    The turning point was deciding to make my own black-powder (without access to everything I needed I was forced to spend a great deal of time ‘p*ssing against a wall’), and then deciding to try ther mite too (I ‘most definitely’ didn’t set off a major terrorist alert, at the height of “the troubles”, by ‘accidentally’ melting the local phone-box … honest officer!). Thirty plus years of shooting bad guys and blowing sh*t up later …

    I’m the poster-boy for the absolute last person you’d ever guess as being even vaguely capable, let alone really good at that sort of thing (and I believe, a ‘few’ times being gazetted, shows I was good) and I wonder just how many youngsters have never found their ‘niche’ because of the woke and ‘safety’ fanatical, and thus extremely limited, education they are allowed now.

    But … (the strangest shaped peg you ever saw, was found, steered and hammered into a suitable shaped hole in HM Forces because of) merit, which is now a dirty word and those youngsters with ‘talent’ will be excluded anyway I suspect (and that’s ignoring how they’re all probably bored silly and consequently turned-off education).

    Whilst ‘we’ prefer other ‘chemicals’ the alkali metals do get used occasionally in an ‘expedient’ manner (you’d be amazed, or maybe not, at what you can do with some common household chemicals and materials. “Cooking” can be so much fun!).

    The ‘amusing’ thing? That the very same people who’d have a panic attack if you only said you had ‘certain chemicals’ in your possession, are the same people who cheerfully walk around with something both worse, and potentially very much worse in their pockets. Go figure.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I never had access to the alkali metals to play with – but as a teenager in the 70s, I could walk into a hardware shop and buy a pound of a ‘certain weedkiller’ in a paper bag, no questions asked. Then to the chemist for some sulphur, again no questions asked, and of course a bag of sugar. Nowadays the average teenager would only be able to get the sugar and that’s no use on its own.

      The days of innocent fun are long gone, I fear.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The days of innocent fun are long gone, I fear.

        Not only that, but I think that the entire attitude has changed from that which was common in previous centuries. It’s not just the blowing stuff up thing, its the worldview and its largely unconscious expectation that all manner of things were possible, from making gunpowder (as described in our 1964 children’s encyclopedia) to fixing things, basic household maintenance, vehicle repairs, etc. All these now seem incomprehensible to most – either banned outright or (sound of teeth sucking) “you need a proper qualified person for that”.

        Liked by 2 people

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