Solving the Beach Explosion Mystery

hydrogenRecently, a small explosion occurred underneath the sand at a Rhode Island beach. When state police and a bomb squad couldn’t figure out what caused the blast, researchers from the University of Rhode Island decided to make an attempt at solving the mystery.

The school’s oceanography interdisciplinary team—made up of researchers with expertise in everything from geology to chemistry—was able to pinpoint an unlikely culprit in the beach explosion: hydrogen.

An Unlikely Investigation

The researchers first began to suspect hydrogen when they discovered an underground uncorroded copper cable at the site, which could create hydrogen though an electrochemical process.

“The copper was like a shiny new penny, and the steel was silvery, even though it had been in seawater for many years,” said Professor Arthur Spivack of the University of Rhode Island. “That told me that it was consistent with there being a slight negative voltage in that end of the cable, which protects it from corroding but also could produce hydrogen.”


The Real Science of an Alkali Metal Explosion

You may remember the classic alkali metal explosion demonstration in one of your early chemistry classes. Many educators use this experiment to show the volatile power of chemistry. The thought was that the unstable reaction was caused by the ignition of hydrogen gas, but scientists in the Czech Republic have found new information behind this classic demonstration by using high-speed video.

The researchers began investigating the science behind this experiment by dropping a sodium-potassium alloy droplet into water. From there, they recorded the explosion with a high-speed camera that is capable of capturing 10,000 frames per second.

Of course, there’s a video.