Air Cannon Serves Up A Blast Of Ferrocerium Sparks

OK, looks like we have a new way to entertain the kids and wreak havoc in the neighborhood, if this spark-shooting ferrocerium cannon is as easy to build as it looks.

This one comes to us by well-known purveyor of eyebrow-singing projects [NightHawkInLight], whose propane torch never seems to get a break. The idea here is a large scale version of an apparently popular trick where the “flints” from lighters, which are actually rods of ferrocerium, an aptly named alloy of iron and cerium, are heated to a nearly molten state and dropped onto a hard surface. The molten alloy thence explodes in a shower of sparks, to the mirth and merriment of those in attendance.

[NightHawkInLight]’s version of the trick scales everything up. Rather than lighter flints, he uses ferrocerium rods from firestarters of the type used for camping. The rod is stuffed into a barrel formed from steel brake line which is connected to the output of a PVC air chamber. His ominpresent propane torch is attached in such a way as the flame plays upon the loaded pyrophoric plug, heating it to a molten state before the air is released from the chamber. The massive display of sparks seen in the video below is pretty impressive, but we’re getting tired of  gender reveal parties and forest fires.  We just hope he had fire extinguishers on hand.

Seriously, be careful with stuff like this. [NightHawkInLight] has a lot of experience working with these kinds of projects, from his plasma-propelled soda bottles to making synthetic rubies with an arc welder. We’re sure he wouldn’t want to see anyone get hurt.

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Cook Up Your Own High-Temperature Superconductors

It looks more like a charcoal briquette than anything, but the black brittle thing at the bottom of [Ben Krasnow]’s crucible is actually a superconducting ceramic that can levitate magnets when it’s sitting in liquid nitrogen. And with [Ben]’s help, you can make some too.

Superconductors that can work at the relatively high temperature of liquid nitrogen instead of ultracold liquid helium are pretty easy to come by commercially, so if you’re looking to just float a few magnets, it would be a lot easier to just hit eBay. But getting there is half the fun, and from the look of the energetic reaction in the video below, [Ben] had some fun with this. The superconductor in question here is a mix of yttrium, barium, and copper oxide that goes by the merciful acronym YBCO.

The easy way to make YBCO involves multiple rounds of pulverizing yttrium oxide, barium chloride carbonate, and copper oxide together and heating them in a furnace. That works, sort of, but [Ben] wanted more, so he performed a pyrophoric reaction instead. By boiling down an aqueous solution of the three components, a thick sludge results that eventually self-ignites in a spectacular way. The YBCO residue is cooked in a kiln with oxygen blowing over it, and the resulting puck has all the magical properties of superconductors. There’s a lot of detail in the video, and the experiments [Ben] does with his YBCO are pretty fascinating too.

Things are always interesting in [Ben Krasnow]’s life, and there seem to be few areas he’s not interested in. Of course we’ve seen his DIY CAT scanner, his ruby laser, and recently, his homemade photochromic glass.

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