47: Chlorine Trifluoride

47: Chlorine Trifluoride

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This chemical is no joke. Amy talks about how 1930’s scientists discovered the explosive and insanely dangerous compound while trying to find a more stable version of fluorine. Mistakes were made.


Chlroine Trifluoride Transcript:

Welcome to Brain Junk, I’m Trace Kerr, and I’m Amy Barton, and this is a Brain Storm.

AB: I would like to talk about science, and I hesitate to delve into this, because my attention span is shiny object level usually, so if we get into in-depth terms, and scientists names, wich are important! These people have done so much work to arrive at a article on Curiosity.com for me. It’s already distilled. So this you can know, that I am going to talk science at you, so this is going to be cool.

TK: Science is always cool. I’m wearing a shirt right now that says science!

AB: The fact that I am willing to break it out and outline sciency words and not just listen to you do it though? This is good. I’m going to talk about chlorine trifluoride.

TK: Oooh, Chas and I talked about this after you mentioned it! So exciting!

AB: Oh my goodness! First of all, we need to talk a couple of sciency words. It’s been a long time since high school for me, and I never took any science in college if I could avoid it, so we need to talk about oxidation. It’s a chemical reaction. Something is changing their number of electrons, which then changes what the chemical is.

TK: Yes.

AB: So fluorine. It is a very powerful oxidizing agent. So it comes into contact with things and changes their molecular structure. It changes their level of electrons. So if it were to come into contact with water, it turns it into oxygen on contact. So super cool. It does a thing quickly and effectively, but because of that, it is very hard to contain. In the 1930’s, scientist Otto Ruff, and H Krug set out to do this thing. So they wanted it to be easier to handle, but just as reactive. They isolated the compound chlorine trifluoride, or CLF3, and it was liquid, and that was enticing, because in theory that is a little more storable. Yes and no. What they found out is that it’s cheap, and wildly explosive and flammable. So, so great! In an era where we’ve just come out of one world war, things are a little unstable and they’re thinking “YES! We have this thing!”. The problem was the only safe way to store it and seal it was in containers made of steel, iron, nickel, copper, after they’ve been treated with the fluorine gas. So they’re still having to deal with the fluorine, and what they discovered,

TK: So it’s super dangerous.

AB: Super dangerous, yes.Because they’re relying on that little layer of fluorine in that container. Because here’s what’s really dangerous about it. It had that wonderful fast oxidizing effect, that fluorine had, but instead of changing water into air, everything it came into contact with would either start burning or explode, depending on the amount of chemicals. And so the best example, was in the 1950s. A ton of CLF3 was accidentally spilled on a warehouse floor. It burned through a foot of concrete and three feet of gravel underneath that. And the only thing they could do was wait for it to burn out. There’s no way to stop it.

TK: Yeah, you can’t put water on it. We were reading that water wouldn’t put it out, because it just keeps going-more oxygen. It’s just crazy!

AB: Dangerous.

TK Chas was saying that if it splashed on you, it hydrolyzes, ok, so it makes a chemical reaction with the fat in your body, which makes more chemicals, makes acid. So not only does it set you on fire, but your body burning makes acid, which also burns your body. So can you imagine if somebody used this as a weapon?

AB: No!

TK: No. Yeah-terrifying

AB: I think that it would turn on it’s master.

TK: Yeah. OK, so that was a very unhappy trip down Brain Storm Lane.

AB: That’s true. We’re going to post a picture of a puppy in these show notes.


AB:But all by itself.

TK: Well. Do you want to hear more? We’re on Facebook and Instagram as BrainJunkPodcast, and on Twitter as @MyBrainJunk. Amy and I will catch you next time with more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and I guarantee you will not be bored.

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