Mad Science Experiments by Theo Gray

Neatorama Spotlight, our new wide-format blog, is lucky to have an excerpt from Theo Gray's fantastic book Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do At Home - But Probably Shouldn't.

In the book, Theo compiled years of the best articles from his Popular Science column Gray Matter. For example:

Making a Deadly White Phosphorus Sun by Theo Gray. Photo: Mike Walker

In 1669 the pompous German alchemist Hennig Brandt accidentally discovered white phosphorus while boiling urine in Hamburg. He became the talk of the town by demonstrating its amazing luminous powers to scientists and dignitaries.

In a cruel irony, 274 years later the discovery he'd hoped would turn lead into gold instead turned his city to ashes when a thousand tons of white-phosphorus incendiary bombs created one of the great firestorms of World War II; 37,000 people died when the sky burned over Hamburg. Yet even today, white phosphorus is still used as a weapon.

I've used red phosphorus to make a batch of kitchen matches. Although both red and white phosphorus contain nothing but the pure element, red is mostly harmless on its own, whereas white is near the top in every category of dangerous. It'll ignite spontaneously and burn vigorously until you deprive it of oxygen. One tenth of a gram inhaled is fatal, and smaller doses over time can make your jaw fall off (seriously - it's called phossy jaw).

Find out how you can make a metal spoon that melts in hot coffee, cast your own silver bullet, build your own lightbulb, freeze electricity and more. Plus, Win a free copy of the Mad Science book by sharing your most memorable science class experience.


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