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Fun with Compressed Air

Once in a while I write an article unrelated to the business of this website. This is one of them.

So for one second, I'm going to stop blowing hot air about how great SpamButcher's spam email blocker software is, and talk about one of the odder virtues of compressed air gas dusters.

Do not inhale compressed air. It can kill you.

Do not try to ignite compressed air. It results in carbon monoxide (which can also kill you).

The substance in gas dusters is not really compressed air. Instead it's one of a few scary-sounding chemicals. The most common one I've seen is Difluoroethane.

Difluoroethane is a gas at room temperature - but can be compressed into a liquid fairly easily.

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OK Kids, Don't Do Any of This Either - You've Been Warned

If you turn a can of compressed air upside down - it comes out as a liquid as opposed to gas. The liquid droplets quickly boil away. Due to the laws of physics, it gets very, very cold as the liquid turns into a gas.

Now, if you spray the can upside down into a Styrofoam cup - the ambient temperature will quickly come down enough so that it won't evaporate. In short, the cup will fill up with very, very cold liquid Difluoroethane.

How cold is it? Well - it has to be at least -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit) to stay liquid. It may be a lot colder due to the physics going on - I'm not sure. My thermometer conks out at -20 Celsius.

It is cold enough to do fun liquid-nitrogen style party tricks. If you dip a flower in it - and throw it against the wall - it will shatter.


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