Copper the Catalyst and Nail Varnish Remover

This may well not be new to you – or you might not be the experimenting type – in which case look no further.

Copper is a catalyst, that is something that speeds up a reaction but does not suffer in the process… so examples like platinum catalysts in cars come to mind.

This one is new to me – and is a great, fun and relatively safe way to demonstrate the use of a catalyst.

IF YOU BLOW YOURSELF UP IT’S NOT MY FAULT. ACETONE (Nail Varnish Remover) is flammable and the fumes set fire relatively easily (hence the requirement to use a tiny amount)).

Copper glowing hot above AcetoneGet a piece of copper wire, let’s say earth wire out of one of those 2-core+earth mains cables… and wrap one end around a nail so as to make a coil, maybe half an inch (12mm) long… with slight air gap between the turns..

Get a short glass – like a half-pint glass or less and arrange something non-flammable (like the rest of the wire – or a drill, or fork so that you can put the item across the top of the glass and use it to suspend your coil just off the bottom of the inside of the glass.. maybe 1/2 inch or less.

Put the tiniest amount of nail varnish remover (has to be the type that uses acetone as that’s the bit we’re interested in.

So, you have your coil on the end of your wire, dangling…… just above the acetone…  take the arrangement away from the glass and with a cigarette lighter, heat it until red hot… replace the arrangement in the glass…. and watch.

Without flame, the copper will continue to glow red hot… experiment with layout, size of coil etc. but always near but not touching the surface, the idea being to get air and acetone fumes on the copper.

There are plenty of places on the web to explain this – I can’t help thinking there has to be a way (while venting waste fumes) of making a neat heater with this. With thicker cable I managed to keep the thing hot at just below red glow level… The example you see here was thick earth wire, one coil within another – to keep the surface area up… but a MUCH simpler arrangement works just fine , even a thin copper WIRE with no coil works fine but tends to turn off quite easily.

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