Mad Physics :: Experiments
Non Dairy Creamer Free Radicals

A lot has been said about the flammability of non-dairy creamer. On many sites around the Internet providing “random facts” suggest that non-dairy creamer is flammable; however, this isn’t entirely true.

Physics of Flammable Powder | Video of FIRE

Physics of Flammable Powder

Ask any big time farmer about dust explosions and they’ll know exactly what you mean. Every year, entire “empty” wheat silos literally explode because of the stuff floating around in the air. This explosion usually happens when a spark or flame ignites floating grain—an example of a free radical explosion.

While the last experiment we did (wax fireballs) showed off a thermal explosion, this experiment is our first free radical explosion. To understand what a free radical explosion is, one must understand what a free radical is. Simply put, a free radical is a molecule (or an atom) with unpaired electrons. These unpaired electrons are very reactive, and are therefore prone to chemical reactions—such as combustion. Like we’ve seen many times over on this site, combustion is a reaction between something and (usually) oxygen. So here is why a free radical facilitates combustion.

The oxygen we breathe is diatomic (i.e. two oxygen atoms stuck together). They are held together by double bonds, and so their arrangement is O=O. For something to combust, or react with oxygen, it must break the strong double bond between the O’s, this is where free radicals come into play. Free radicals, being reactive, will readily break this double bond, and thus enable combustion.

Now, back to non-dairy creamer.

Dairy-creamer, like any powder has a huge surface area. In fact, if you took a spoonful of powder, it might have a surface area comparable to the floor plan of your house! This is thanks to the fact that the particles involved are so small, so the net surface area is huge. If you have a great surface area, more free radicals can be formed and, since free radicals determine the rate of the combustion, you will have a high rate, and thus an explosion will occur. It works very well if the dust itself is flammable; however, with this example, you will notice that non-dairy creamer itself will not burn sitting in a pile. One must scatter it in air for the sides of the particles (and the free radicals) to be exposed to air.

So in conclusion:

Non-dairy creamer: not flammable on its own, but is flammable when evenly spread in air.

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Videos of FIRE

Don’t believe us? Well here are some videos of our fire. This is very dangerous (look at Martijn jumping out of the fire in the first video!); so as usual don’t try it. We did this off of Joost’s balcony and therefore the fireball is ~20 feet tall; however, it would have been very easy to make the fireball bigger. This was impressive enough, and this was we didn’t waste too much powder.

The videos are below, they’re big, but it’s worth the wait.

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If you have used any of this information or any of these images please go ahead and cite them in your bibliography. For your convenience, this is what the citation would look like in MLA format:

Family, Afrooz. “Non Dairy Creamer Free Radicals.” November 14, 2005 Mad Physics. dd mmm. yyyy

<http://www.madphysics.com/exp/non_dairy_creamer_free_radical.htm">

We are glad to share our knowledge with you as long as you cite all of our info, and contact us before you use anything for non-educational purposes (commercial, etc.).

† In the bibliography you must insert the day you visited the site (this is relevant because the site could change at some point), therefore, in the bibliography above replace dd with the day you visited, mmm with the abreviated month, and yyyy with the year (ex: dd mmm. yyyy becomes 23 Dec. 2004).

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