A Shimmering Ball
It is important to remember that while many people are lucky and don't
get hurt playing with sodium, what lucky means is that there was a good chance they
would have gotten hurt, but for that luck, and that means some people do get hurt
doing the same sort of thing.
In the sodium experiments descrbined in my sodium party page,
no one got hurt, but luck was not a factor.
Teenagers please take note: Doing sodium dangerously is easy, anyone can do it.
If you want to do something real, learn how to do it in a way where luck is not a factor.
It's a lot harder, but there is more power in it.
Paul sent in the following story, which is probably one of the few first-hand descriptions of
what a molten, spinning ball of sodium looks like. Not many people have seen this sight
and lived to tell about it. The story also illustrates what happens when you rely on luck.
I am glad you put up the information on your Sodium experiments, as I feel if students are
given plenty of information, they won't make the mistake I did.
30 years ago, I dropped about a cubic inch of Sodium into a pot of water to see what it would do.
This is what I wrote a couple of months after I had the
accident to remind myself and others of my carelessness.
After seeing a teacher drop a pea sized piece of sodium into water, I
wanted to see what happened with a bigger piece.
I dropped a lump of sodium, maybe 1.5 cubic inches, into a 1000ml container
half full of water.
I watched it change shape from a dull grey lump to a coppery silver pearl
colored spinning ball that seemed to roll through the water surface.
[Editors note: The melting point of sodium is less than the boiling point of
water, so it's possible to have a ball of molten sodium floating on water.
The heat of the reaction easily melts the soldium, so what Paul was seeing was
almost certainly a ball of molten sodium.]
It was bouncing up and down slightly, about once per second, the ball
changing shape because it was quite fluid, looking like a balloon full of water
wobbling on a desk.
Small blue flames were sliding around the sodium ball where it touched the
The ball was hissing quietly as it gave off hydrogen, and the water under
the ball was getting cloudy, as the sodium formed a solution of NaOH.
The air above the ball was full of water bubbles, like above a glass of
soda. This was causing rainbow-like colors in the bright sunlight.
I was so fascinated by the unexpected flashing colors on the surface of the
ball that I got closer for a better look, my eyes about two feet away from the beaker.
Then it exploded upwards, with a suprisingly quiet popping sound of the
I was blind for two weeks, but I was lucky, one eye recovered. The other eye
was permanently damaged by the NaOH solution (caustic soda) produced by the sodium and
Having one eye means:
Most sports are out, I can't judge distance fast enough to catch a ball or
I have a blind side, so I bump into things more often than most people do.
But one eye is infinitely better than no eyes.
I still remember starting Braille lessons.
Some things you never forget.
Look after yourself.