Could my hand shatter like glass if i dipped it in liquid nitrogen?
Ryan Halpern, Ann Arbor, MI
At -320°F (-196°C), liquid nitrogen is colder than Ann Coulter stamping passports at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s primarily used as an industrial refrigerant: transporting perishables, freezing broken water pipes so plumbers can service them without getting soaked, preserving medical samples—nothing too glamorous, really, unless you’re into frozen sperm. In college labs wild-eyed professors do science tricks with liquid nitrogen. “You could dip your finger for a very short time with no ill effects,” says Jim Peploski, professor of chemistry at Clarkson University. “The skin’s warmth causes liquid nitrogen to boil rapidly, surrounding the finger with a pocket of nitrogen gas.” And if you leave those fingers submerged more than a quick second? “Prolonged exposure would cause the interconnecting tissue, skin, and bones to freeze solid,” says Peploski. “The hand would be like a frozen pork chop; it probably wouldn’t shatter like glass, but you could use it as a good, sturdy club.”