In the early 1800’s, mining was a prolific industry in England.
It was also quite prolific at taking people’s lives.
It was a dangerous business.
The mines were full of methane gas and the workers worked using oil lamp.
Not a very clever combination.
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This caused a lot of mine explosions taking many miners lives.
But one day, England’s leading Chemist, Sir Humphry Davy went on an experimental quest to stop such explosions from happening.
And after burning many a midnight candle 🙂 , he finally discovered that if you put a metal gauge around a candle flame, the light could still pass through but it wasn’t too hot to start a fire.
Today, we’re going to do a fire safety science experiment to explore this same concept that Sir Humphry Davy discovered using two very simple things: strips of paper and a metal strainer.
Questions To Ask Before The Experiment:
- How quickly does paper burn when you light it up with a match?
- Do you think there’s a way to stop paper from burning?
- Why do you think we need a metal strainer for this experiment?
For the materials, you will need:
- strips of paper
- METAL strainer
Step by Step Procedure:
This is a fun easy experiment for kids. But since the experiment uses fire, this requires adult supervision.
- First, test how quickly paper burns. Using a match, burn a strip of paper and see how quickly it burns. If you have a bigger area (and again! adult supervision required!), burn many strips of paper at the same time and see how quickly that burns.
- Next, put the paper strips in a strainer and let the magic begin.
- Using a match (as step no. 1 above) burn the paper from under the strainer, so that the strainer is between the paper and the fire.
- See what happens to the paper. It doesn’t burn, right? You can keep doing this and the paper still will not light up.
Observation Of This Fire Experiment
You may have noticed that there was smoke but this largely came from the heat in the strainer.
What do you think is happening here? What is it with the strainer that made the fire impossible to burn?
Quick & Easy Explanation
To explain this experiment, we need to get back to a basic Chemistry concept, autoignition.
This states that things have a specific temperature at which they ignite. This is the point when something starts to burn.
There needs to be a certain temperature before paper is going to burn. This came very quickly when we directly burned the paper with the match.
However, in the succeeding step, we used a metal strainer in between the match and the paper.
And this is where the “magic” happened.
The magic is in the metal strainer.
Placed in between the fire and the paper, the strainer is now taking up most of the heat.
In this way, the heat that reaches the paper is much lower than its point of ignition. This is why the paper couldn’t burn at all.
Think of the strainer as the buffer. He’s the one taking it all and getting all the “damage”.
This Fire Safety Experiment and The Safety Lamp That Saved Many Lives
As you can see from the title of this article, the concept behind this fire safety experiment has saved many people’s lives.
I wonder exactly how Humphry Davy came about with the experiment. He probably tested a lot of different materials until he realised the metallic gauge could do this. What a lightbulb moment that must have been! [Updated: Just found Royal Institution’s video below showing the different prototypes!]
When he realised that the metal gauge could do this, he immediately made the first prototype of the safety lamp.
And voila! The very first Humphry Davy’s lamp was born.