Mad Physics :: Experiments
20 Foot Wax Fireball

Introduction | Warning | Methods | Video

Introduction

After being inspired by Michael Faraday’s Chemical History of a Candle Joost and I did some research and he found a rather nice experiment to do with candles. The result: one of the stupidest coolest experiments we’ve done.

This lab uses the concepts of phase change and density to create a giant fireball. The one we made was over twenty feet tall! Our goal is to maybe redo this experiment on a bigger scale, but for now we’re still happy to be alive.

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Warning

This lab is so dangerous you could get hurt watching this video. WE STRONGLY DISCOURAGE THE BEHAVIOR SEEN HERE. I have been working in laboratory science for four years and I was wearing a great deal of protective clothing (see: videos), but I still took a big risk in doing this experiment. We had first aid, fire extinguishers, and proper gear.

This experiment has a lot of room for mistake, so don’t tempt fate. But while you’re at it, watch us tempt fate instead:

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Methods

This is how the experiment works: you create a fire and place candles (or simply wax) in a metal bucket and place the bucket on the fire. After some time the wax should melt and catch on fire. Once the wax is on fire you dump some (hot) water into the bucket.

At this point you may flinch because what once was a tame little fire will have gone up a story or two! Here is our fire and bucket.

Inside the bucket, a white pillar candle.

Side note: I was very busy before this experiment and didn’t have time to properly shop. In my haste though, I passed a Crate & Barrel and decided to bite the bullet and buy candles there. $20 and four candles later I felt a bit foolish. Here’s the proof:


They were pretty candles though! Oh wait, back to the science:

This fireball is an effect of expansion and phase change. The water is denser that the wax in the bucket and therefore the wax will rise on top of the water. The water—being put into a very hot bucket—will instantly vaporize. This sudden violent expansion will shoot the burning wax into the air creating an awesome fireball.

Here are the results:

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Videos

 

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Family, Afrooz. “20 Foot Wax Fireball.” September 12, 2005 Mad Physics. dd mmm. yyyy

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