What do you get when you rig up flame launchers, giant snowmen, water pistols filled with conic acid, a firework tree, and more? The 12 Explosions of Christmas.
The above comes from Greg Foot, a ‘Science Daredevil’ who hosts TV and online shows — including a popular explainer series for Head Squeeze — and his friend Mike Sansom, who also happens to be a qualified pyrotechnician. After a few pints, they came up with a Christmas plan: blow stuff up.
The video above shows the sum total of destruction, but you can also check out 12 additional videos that explain the science behind each and every explosion belowto get your Christmas Eve started right!
12 Mince Pies A’Poppin
Greg and Mike start their epic 12 Explosions Of Christmas with some awesome slo-mo of 12 mince pies making a ridiculous mess. Inside each tasty treat is 0.2g of flash powder in a maroon. The flash powder contains two of the three things you need for something to burn: a fuel and oxygen.
The black powder fuse brought the final corner of the fire triangler — the heat. Charles’ Law (a gas law) states that when the temperature of a gas increases, its volume also expands. So when the flash powder is lit and confined (say for example, in a mince pie) it creates gases that heat up quickly and expand big time.
11 Baubles Blazing
This is school chemistry supersized. Greg and Mike create homemade baubles from a thermite mix of aluminium powder and iron oxide, scoop it into flower pots, hang them on the tree, and set them alight with a sparkler as a fuse. Cue hugely exothermic thermite reaction. The aluminium powder burns to create a huge amount of heat, so that the oxygen is displaced from the iron oxide (rust) to leave behind molten iron that drips out the bottom of the ‘baubles’.
10 Stockings Spontaneously Combusting
Your stockings are great for satsumas and chocolate, but they’re also pretty cool on fire. The guys turned to potassium chlorate to provide the oxygen, the stocking material was the fuel, and the reaction between potassium chlorate and the concentrated sulphuric acid they filled the kids’ water pistols with, created the heat to finish off the triangle.
9 Reindeers A’Rocketing
So how does Santa make it around the whole world in one night? Magic? Nah. The guys want to see if rockets would do it so for the ninth Explosion of Christmas, Greg and Mike put rocket motors up 9 (plastic) reindeers’ derrieres! Newton’s Third Law says that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The action is hot gas shooting out in one direction, and the equal and opposite reaction should be the reindeer flying upwards. The result was… well… just watch.
8 Brussels Sprouts Cannons Firing
Greg has a vendetta against this particular veg, so he and Mike fired eight of them out of bronze cannons. To set them off they placed just 10 grams of black powder (refined gun powder) into the cannons, inserted some wadding and one single sprout per cannon, and lit the fuse. The effect was destruction of Greg’s tower of bubbly! And a hole right through the table.
7 Bags of Chestnuts Roasting
The boys took roasting chestnuts to a whole new level. Think 3 big flame cannons, placed under a huge tripod, with 7 bags of chestnuts. Open the solenoid valve, dump the propane, light with a 80,000 volt spark, and WHOOSH, a 30ft high fire ball. If you want to keep your eyebrows you don’t wanna be anywhere near that baby when it goes off!
6 Presents Exploding
Greg likes to give the element of surprise when he wraps up his presents… so the guysturned to liquid nitrogen. At atmospheric pressure it boils off (changes state from liquid to a gas) at -196 degrees Celsius. Bonus fact: contrary to what many people think, the white stuff formed when Greg opens the dewar is actually a cloud of water vapour. Pour the liquid nitrogen into plastic bottles, cap them off and place them inside a present, and wait…
5 Santas… On… Fire…
Greg and Mike created the ultimate combustion mix, a true stoichiometric mix of hydrogen and oxygen, filling five inflatable Santas with two parts hydrogen gas to one part oxygen gas. Using a remote trigger the guys ignite the hydrox mix inside the Santas to create a super fast explosion. It caused quite a bang! Much bigger than they were expecting, anyway.
4 Flaming Puddings
Getting into the spirit of Christmas, the boys find a way to create different coloured flames for the traditional flaming Christmas pudding! Using different metal salts — strontium, barium, copper and sodium — they create red, green, blue, and yellow flames on their puds.
The science bit: When you heat the metal ions in the salts the energy causes the electrons to jump to a higher energy level. They’re not stable up there so they fall back, spitting out that packet of energy, which we see as light. The electrons of different metals jump different amounts, so spit out different size energy packets which you see as different colours.
3 Cracking Crackers
Retreating to the field as this was a big one, Greg and Mike upgrade their explosives from low explosives like gunpowder or flash power to high explosives. This means breaking the bonds of the chemicals at a molecular level, with the chemical reaction following after.
There’s no getting up close to this one. The boys stand back at the other end of the field to detonate the crackers remotely. Check out the awesome slow mo! It’s one almighty crack.
2 Melting Snowmen
After one of the elves spent a whole day building two lovely fluffy snowmen Greg and Mike set them alight. But not with a blowtorch. No, they mixed of the most dangerous concoctions they could: a solution of white phosphorus dissolved in carbon disulfide. It took close to 10 minutes for the carbon disulfide to evaporate off, leaving the white phosphorus to spontaneously combust in style.
And an Eeeeeeee-pic Firework Tree
In this epic closure, Greg and Mike have created a Christmas tree out of a network of lances and gunpowder tape. Not only that, but they’ve brought back the metal salts from the flaming puddings video to light it up in red and green. And of course, no grand finale is complete without a pyrotechnic display. A fitting end to an explosive day.
Special thanks to Greg Foot!
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Head Squeeze is produced by 360Production and BBC Worldwide.
Greg Foot and Mike Sansom’s The 12 Explosions Of Christmas was produced by Greg Foot for Head Squeeze, filmed and directed by Tristan Goodley and edited by Oli da Costa at Fraktiv.
Greg Foot is a Science Presenter on TV, Online & at Live Events, and a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow. For more science daredevil mayhem follow Greg here: https://twitter.com/gregfoot
Mike Sansom is a fireworks and explosive pro and runs BrightFire Pyrotechnics. For more from Mike and his explosive elves follow: https://twitter.com/brightfirepyro 360Production is an online, TV and multiplatform production company. We put thebest ideas on the right platform with our signature humorous and animated audiovisual packages. www.360production.com