There’s no debating that metallic sodium is exciting stuff, but getting your hands on some can be problematic, what with the need to ship it in a mineral oil bath to keep it from exploding. So why not make your own? No problem, just pass a few thousand amps of current through an 800° pot of molten table salt. Easy as pie.
Thankfully, there’s now a more approachable method courtesy of this clever chemical hack that makes metallic sodium in quantity without using electrolysis. [NurdRage], aka [Dr. N. Butyl Lithium], has developed a process to extract metallic sodium from sodium hydroxide. In fact, everything [NurdRage] used to make the large slugs of sodium is easily and cheaply available – NaOH from drain cleaner, magnesium from fire starters, and mineral oil to keep things calm. The reaction requires an unusual catalyst – menthol – which is easily obtained online. He also gave the reaction a jump-start with a small amount of sodium metal, which can be produced by the lower-yielding but far more spectacular thermochemical dioxane method; lithium harvested from old batteries can be substituted in a pinch. The reaction will require a great deal of care to make sure nothing goes wrong, but in the end, sizable chunks of the soft, gray metal are produced at phenomenal yields of 90% and more. The video below walks you through the whole process.
It looks as though [NurdRage]’s method can be scaled up substantially or done in repeated small batches to create even more sodium. But what do you do when you make too much sodium metal and need to dispose of it? Not a problem.
A high school friend once related the story about how his father, a chemist for an environmental waste concern, disposed of a problematic quantity of metallic sodium by dumping it into one of the more polluted rivers in southern New England. Despite the fact that the local residents were used to seeing all manner of noxious hijinx in the river, the resulting explosion was supposedly enough to warrant a call to the police and an expeditious retreat back to the labs. It was a good story, but not especially believable back in the day.
After seeing this video of how the War Department dealt with surplus sodium in 1947, I’m not so sure. I had always known how reactive sodium is, ever since demonstrations in chemistry class where a flake of the soft gray metal would dance about in a petri dish full of water and eventually light up for a few exciting seconds. The way the US government decided to dispose of 20 tons of sodium was another thing altogether. The metal was surplus war production, probably used in incendiary bombs and in the production of aluminum for airplanes. No longer willing to stockpile it, the government tried to interest industry in the metal, but to no avail due to the hazard and expense of shipping the stuff. Sadly (and as was often the case in those days), they just decided to dump it.
[Marko] styles himself as a crazy chemist. His video showing a fast tin plating solution for PCBs (YouTube, see below) doesn’t seem so crazy. We will admit, though, it uses some things that you might have to search for.
The formula calls for stannous chloride — you could probably make this by dissolving tin in hydrochloric acid. There’s also thiourea — the main chemical in silver-cleaning dips like Tarn-X. Sulphuric acid and deionized water round out the recipe.
Making your own printed circuit board at home often leads to a board which looks homemade. Exposed copper is one of the tell-tale signs. That may be your aesthetic and we won’t cramp your style, but exposed copper is harder to solder than tinned copper and it likes to oxidize over time. Tinning at home can bring you a step closer to having a full-featured board. In the video after the break, famed chemist [nurdrage] shows us how to make tinning solution at home in the video below the break.
There are only three ingredients to make the solution and you can probably find them all at a corner hardware store.
Hydrochloric acid. Also known as muriatic acid.
Solid lead-free solder with ≥ 95% tin
Silver polish containing thiourea
Everything to pull this off is in the first three minutes of the video. [nurdrage] goes on to explain the chemistry behind this reaction. It doesn’t require electricity or heat but heat will speed up the reactions. With this kind of simplicity, there’s no reason to make untinned circuit boards in your kitchen anymore. If aesthetics are very important, home tinning yourself allows you to mask off certain regions and have exposed copper and tin on the same board.
Drugs are used the world over to treat disease. However, from time to time, the vagaries of market economics, or unscrupulous action, can radically increase the price of otherwise cheap pharmaceuticals far beyond the reach of the average person. This was the case with Pyrimethamine (sold as Daraprim), which is used to treat toxoplasmosis and malaria, among other users. With the price skyrocketing from $13 to $750 a tablet in the US in 2015, [NurdRage] decided to synthesize the drug on their own. (If you missed the background hubbub, search for “Martin Shkreli”.)
The video linked covers the final synthesis, though [NurdRage] has previously covered the synthesis of the required precursor chemicals. Budding chemists may grow excited, but there are significant hurdles to attempting this synthesis yourself. Chemicals involved are carcinogenic, toxic, acidic, or otherwise dangerous, and a fume hood is a necessity if working inside. Outside of this, there are immense risks in homebrewing pharmaceuticals. Performing the synthesis of an important drug is one thing, but to do so at a medical-grade level where the products are safe for human consumption is on an entirely different level.
Overall, [NurdRage] has put out a series of videos that have strong educational value, showing us what really goes into the production of a common pharmaceutical compound. There’s also something to be said about taking the production of life-saving medicines into one’s own hands in the face of prohibitive treatment costs. In a similar vein, perhaps you’ve considered producing your own insulin in an emergency?
[lasersaber] has a passion: low-power motors. In a bid to challenge himself and inspired by betavoltaic cells, he has 3D printed and built a small nuclear powered motor!
This photovoltaic battery uses fragile glass vials of tritium extracted from keychains and a small section of a solar panel to absorb the light, generating power. After experimenting with numerous designs, [lasersaber] went with a 3D printed pyramid that houses six coils and three magnets, encapsulated in a glass cloche and accompanied by a suitably ominous green glow.
Can you guess how much power and current are coursing through this thing? Guess again. Lower. Lower.
A Betavoltaic cell is a device that uses a radioactive source of beta particles and a semiconductor p-n junction to generate electricity. Tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, is often used as the radioactive element. You may think that tritium is hard to obtain or even forbidden, however, recently you can find tritium in self-lightning key chains, and it is also used in watches and firearm night sights. The beta particles (electrons) from the tritium radioactive process causes phosphors in the device to glow, giving a light that can last for years.
[NurdRage] has just created a nuclear battery using tritium vials from key chains. After getting rid of the plastic containers, he sandwiches the vials between two small solar panels. That’s all! Instant power for the next 15 years. Of course, the amount of power you can get from this device is on the order of microwatts. The battery produces around 1.6 volts at 800 nano amps. He gets 1.23 microwatts, not much, but it is in fact more than the output of commercial units at 0.84 microwatts, for a ten percent of the cost. That minuscule amount of power is actually not easy to measure, and he does a great job explaining the circuit he used to measure the current.