Chemical and Engineering Information: Science and Expertise

February 18, 2008
Part 86, No. 07
P. 40

what’s that stuff?

Density classes impressed the Woodstock era

Carmen Drahli

indifference perhaps It ranks far down the checklist of causes of kidney failure. However in a 1996 report Annals of Emergency Medication That is the story of a 65-year-old man who swallowed the contents of a sure Nineteen Sixties mild fixture after which spent three months within the hospital recovering from his indisposition. The journal didn’t identify the producer of that individual lamp. However most individuals would name it a lava lamp, which is the trademark identify of an organization’s product that’s extensively used to explain liquid movement lamps and their distinctive wavy move.


The liquid movement lamp was invented within the UK; the story goes that Edward Craven Walker, a World Conflict II Royal Air Drive squadron chief and a nudist filmmaker, drew inspiration for the groovy lamp from the pub’s egg timer. The patent literature suggests that there’s some reality to that story. Walker was definitely the primary to commercialize lamps, embodying the “Age of Aquarius”.

These preliminary patents aren’t easy-to-follow recipes, however they do present a dialogue of how a kitschy lamp works. The shapely pot comprises two major elements which might be mutually insoluble. The important thing to the lamp’s ever-changing serpentine move is to intently match the density of the 2 layers. A warmth supply modifications the density of 1 part in order that when heated, it’s much less dense than the opposite part and due to this fact floats upward. When cooled, it’s denser than the opposite part and sinks to the underside.

The random movement attracts public curiosity, and is one thing that different collectibles very not often recreate, mentioned Anthony Vassallo, a fluid movement lamp collector who maintains the tribute web sites and helps in. “You by no means know the way lava goes to move.”

Water and beeswax, which bear the unique patent identify as the principle elements, stay elements of the industrial recipe, says Tom Spain, vp of gross sales, advertising and product growth for Haggerty Enterprises, the official US producer of Lava model lamps. The extra brokers, he explains, assist the wax slowly rise upwards somewhat than separate into bubbles when heated and permit the wax to stay to the edges of the container.

Walker’s US patent mentions components reminiscent of dye, mineral oil, carbon tetrachloride and polyethylene glycol (PEG), however the actual method of the industrial lamp is a commerce secret. Spain tells C&EN that solely 5 – 6 workers chemists know the method and are answerable for topical enhancements. Density should be recorded for every batch of wax manufactured by Haggerty, which is combined in 5-foot-tall vats in factories in China.

Final however not least, a layer of water is added to the cooled wax very slowly to keep away from forming emulsions, that are cloudy-looking oil-water mixtures. In reality, the recipe for the water layer is fastidiously adjusted to completely complement the density of every distinctive batch of wax.

So far as movement lamp recipes go, a examine of the emergency room affected person above supplies extra detailed info than patents and firms. Fuel chromatography–mass spectrometry evaluation of the affected person’s blood and the remaining lamp liquid revealed that the elements have been principally per Walker’s patent. However here is meals for thought for these with an insatiable thirst for liquid movement lamps: The examine concluded that PEG was most likely answerable for the kidney toxicity.

patent formulation Plus, there’s a plethora of do-it-yourself recipes out there on web sites like Many of those recipes name for each a flammable alcohol and a warmth supply, a harmful mixture with out the appropriate experience and supervision.

Sprinkled all through home-brew web sites, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. additionally has indicators for liquid movement lamps. The lamp’s honor is a darkish nook on the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past. Big rocks from the stays of historical volcanic eruptions swing the lamp. Sorensen, the museum’s president and curator answerable for the rock and ore assortment, helped dream up the exhibit 10 years in the past. The purpose, she says, was to provide museum patrons a crash course within the science of molten rock, which rises via the Earth’s crust to turn out to be the bases of volcanoes.

First, Sorensen says, the show case interfered with the lamp’s efficiency, as the shortage of air move prevented the wax globules from cooling and sinking.

Lamp air flow can be a problem throughout manufacturing unit quality-control testing, Spain notes, and it requires a room with a particular cooling system. On the Smithsonian, curators drill strategically positioned holes within the show case to repair their lamps. That persistence paid off, Sorensen says, giving the museum “one thing dynamic, one thing that can be a magnet for youngsters.”

mission achieved. When C&EN visited the museum, five-year-old Joshua of Arizona galloped towards the towering Ooz glowingly and pressed towards the glass case, mesmerized. “I need one in every of these at residence,” he informed C&EN.

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