LN2, the quicker picker upper

February 14, 2007 at 6:03 pm | | everyday science, great finds, lab safety

While working on a mechanical pump, a leak was sprung whereby the entire oil reservoir found its way onto the ground. The beauty of mechanical pump oil is that it’s viscous, coats everything it touches, spreads like a STD in a co-ed dorm, and isn’t particularly easy to absorb. So rather than deforesting the Amazon and taking a bath in the stuff to clean it up, I decided to try a little experiment.

1000mL of liquid nitrogen was obtain from Praxair and used without further purification. To the floor in the lab was quickly added 1000mL of liquid nitrogen. Upon addition, it was observed that the pump oil was vitrified into a glass. Upon evaporation of the residual nitrogen, a plastic scrapper (TAP Plastics) was used to scrape the frozen pump oil into a pile. Approximately 300mL of pump oil was collected and analyzed via optical spectroscopy (it looked yellow).

It’s not quite as versatile as club soda and lemon juice, but it worked.

The author would like to thank the voices in his head, for the stimulating conversations on the subject. Funding: NSF #109.3008.8849


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  1. No picture?!?!
    Personally, I urinate into dewars so I can throw away my waste in the trash can. OK, that’s a lie.

    Comment by sam — February 15, 2007 #

  2. I wonder if I could use that to clean my hood?

    Your post caught my attention, so I read a little further. Nice blog! (Why did it take me so long to find it?)

    Comment by ψ*ψ — February 15, 2007 #

  3. Will LN help to clean the gunk under my stove? Especially after the milk boils over?
    Will dry ice have the same effect?
    Great post. Is’nt that what science is all about, anyway? Oh, but you know it already, what with being the everyday scientist !

    Comment by lakshmi — February 16, 2007 #

  4. Liquid N2 is good for re-naturating kerosene-denaturated ethanol. (A polyethylene pipe filled with ethanol is gradualy immersed into dewar with N2. The frozen ethanol block is extruded from the pipe. Top upper third is thrown away, so is the bottom one inch. The middle cut is retained, melted and consumed.

    Comment by milkshake — February 23, 2007 #

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