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ERIC Number: EJ1085702
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016-Jan
Pages: 5
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0031-921X
Exploding Water Drops
Reich, Gary
Physics Teacher, v54 n1 p9-13 Jan 2016
Water has the unusual property that it expands on freezing, so that ice has a specific gravity of 0.92 compared to 1.0 for liquid water. The most familiar demonstration of this property is ice cubes floating in a glass of water. A more dramatic demonstration is the ice bomb shown in Fig. 1. Here a cast iron flask is filled with water and tightly stoppered. The flask is then cooled, either by leaving it outdoors in winter or by immersing it in a cryogenic fluid, until the water freezes. As the water freezes and expands, the pressure inside the flask increases dramatically, eventually becoming sufficient to fracture the metal walls of the enclosure. A related, but much less familiar, phenomenon is the explosive fracturing of small waterdrops upon freezing. That waterdrops can fracture in this way has been known for many years, and the phenomenon has been described in detail in the atmospheric sciences literature, where it is seen as relevant to the freezing of raindrops as they fall through cold air. Carefully controlled experiments have been done documenting how the character and frequency of fracture is affected by such variables as drop size, rate of cooling, chemistry of dissolved gases, etc. Here I describe instead a simple demonstration of fracture suitable for video analysis and appropriate for study at the introductory physics level. Readers may also be interested in other characteristics of freezing and fragmenting waterdrops, for example, charge separation upon fracture and the appearance of spikes and bulges on the surface.
American Association of Physics Teachers. One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740. Tel: 301-209-3300; Fax: 301-209-0845; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A