|Vial of antique mercury.
This small glass vial came from Rob Raguet-Schofield's wife's coworker's parents who had it in their basement and didn't know what to do with it. They thought about burying it in the back yard but I took it off their hands instead.
You have got to listen to the sound of this sample.
This picture is out of date: I've since added more mercury that came from a leaking barometer I got at a school auction, and cleaned it all up by using a coffee filter with a pinhole in the bottom of it (a technique I learned from Timothy Brumleve). Amazingly, you can simply let dirty oxidized mercury drip through such a filter, and it comes out bright and shiny. The oxide is left clinging to the sides of the coffee filter. Of course, you wouldn't want to do that without protection against the mercury vapor and a proper way to dispose of the mercury contaminated filters.
Back in 1972 (October issue to be precise) National Geographic Magazine published a photograph of a man sitting on a pool of mercury. And I do mean on, not in. I've never forgotten that photo, and finally dug it up again (from their CD-ROM collection):
Of course, no one in their right mind, then or now, would expose themselves to this much mercury. But, man, doesn't it look like it would be an incredible experience? Mercury is so dense, and clings to itself so strongly, than the man floats on it like Styrofoam floats on water. The pressure inside a pool of mercury rises 13 times more rapidly than the pressure in a pool of water (because it is 13 times more dense). Imagine sticking your arm straight down into a pool of mercury: The pressure on your hand would be as high as if it were 20 feet under water. What must that feel like?
When I wrote the above, I never thought that anyone had actually tried it, but it turns out quite a few people have, and in the USA no less. A reader who wishes to remain anonymous send the following story:
I don't have to imagine!All I can say is, I really, really wish that mercury wasn't so poisonous!
I grew up in [location deleted] and my father worked in the high power tube division of [company name deleted]. They would periodically have open house tours. I remember well one at about age 7.
The plant where large [product name deleted] tubes were assembled was a large barn with a hard packed oily dirt floor. Some of these tubes were larger than 55 gallon drums; control rectifiers for pumped storage power plants, etc. There were open 55 gallon drums of mercury around to fill them. One of the tour demos was to see if you were able to completely immerse your arm in a drum of mercury. I remember the feeling of almost being lifted off the ground by the buoyancy of my arm deep in the barrel.
The floor was covered with puddles of mercury. People worked there 8-10 hours a day. I never heard of anyone being poisoned. Of course one wouldn't, would one.
My father occasionally brought home small amounts of mercury for me to play with. I had a couple of pounds at one time but gradually lost most of it. That was fifty years ago. I'm still here.
Source: Rob Raguet-Schofield
Contributor: Rob Raguet-Schofield
Acquired: 22 May, 2002
Text Updated: 29 January, 2009