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bhetti
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08 Mar 2010, 10:35 pm

I'm writing a graphic novel for my daughter because she likes them and most of the ones for girls are stupid.

I'm trying to write something that will be educational as well as entertaining but I'm having a perfectionist hurdle I can't get past and I was wondering if there was anyone out there whose special interest is chemistry who wouldn't mind letting me ask a few questions so I can build a scientifically plausible story.

I know I could rely on magic to solve all my problems, but when I asked her if she wanted all science, all magic or a blend of both, she said a blend and I can't bring myself to circumvent science with magic if the magic ruins the science, if that makes sense.



pakled
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09 Mar 2010, 12:47 am

what do you want the science/magic to do? There was a 4-book series (the Darkness Series) by Harry Turtledove, where they treated magic as science...
Give us some ideas, and the real chemists can step in and tell you what you want to know...all I know is it's acid to water, not the other way around...;)


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bhetti
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09 Mar 2010, 11:16 am

thanks pakled. you do have a point that unless I explain what I want to do, no one will have any idea how to help me.

my hope is to introduce the practical uses of the periodic table and a basic understanding of molecules even if I have to invent a molecule or alloy to make it interesting. I need to invent a substance that will release energy with only a little physical force and is not radioactive. ideally it would be crystalline in structure (which is why I was leaning toward magic in the first place, because I'm pretty sure there is no actual structure that will accommodate me).

I suppose I could just make something up, but it feels wrong to do it. I'd like to lead my daughter into an appreciation for science. I myself was actively discouraged while in middle school from pursuing science so I'm woefully ignorant of even basic chemistry.

I'm not sure why my post was moved to this section. my question doesn't really have anything to do with art, writing, and music although the larger context of my project does.

(edited to add: the nice moderator who moved my thread here also linked to it from the science forum, so now it makes absolute sense that it was moved!)



Sand
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09 Mar 2010, 12:56 pm

bhetti wrote:
thanks pakled. you do have a point that unless I explain what I want to do, no one will have any idea how to help me.

my hope is to introduce the practical uses of the periodic table and a basic understanding of molecules even if I have to invent a molecule or alloy to make it interesting. I need to invent a substance that will release energy with only a little physical force and is not radioactive. ideally it would be crystalline in structure (which is why I was leaning toward magic in the first place, because I'm pretty sure there is no actual structure that will accommodate me).

I suppose I could just make something up, but it feels wrong to do it. I'd like to lead my daughter into an appreciation for science. I myself was actively discouraged while in middle school from pursuing science so I'm woefully ignorant of even basic chemistry.

I'm not sure why my post was moved to this section. my question doesn't really have anything to do with art, writing, and music although the larger context of my project does.

(edited to add: the nice moderator who moved my thread here also linked to it from the science forum, so now it makes absolute sense that it was moved!)


If it's not radioactive energy it probably is chemical energy and if enough chemical energy is released it comes out as either heat or an increase in volume or both. An explosive does this as does a match which is not quite so spectacular. Nitrogen iodide is a rather neat explosive made by soaking iodine crystals in a solution of ammonia. Or tincture of iodine dropped into an ammonia solution probably will precipitate out nitrogen iodide as a black sludge. It is quite safe while wet but once it dries even a light breeze can set it off as an explosion. I did this for fun as a teenager.



bhetti
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09 Mar 2010, 2:45 pm

Sand wrote:
If it's not radioactive energy it probably is chemical energy and if enough chemical energy is released it comes out as either heat or an increase in volume or both. An explosive does this as does a match which is not quite so spectacular. Nitrogen iodide is a rather neat explosive made by soaking iodine crystals in a solution of ammonia. Or tincture of iodine dropped into an ammonia solution probably will precipitate out nitrogen iodide as a black sludge. It is quite safe while wet but once it dries even a light breeze can set it off as an explosion. I did this for fun as a teenager.

oh wow, that sounds like fun. I'm going to go read up about it. it might too dangerous for a graphic novel for a little girl since the protagonist has to use it to fuel her vehicle in a world without petroleum and I don't want my daughter getting the idea that it's safe to carry around.

I suppose I am looking for a chemical energy reaction of some kind, so that gives me a good place to start in educating myself. I think I'd prefer dealing with a heat reaction over an explosive reaction although I could see uses for both in my story.

damn my mother for convincing me to avoid science :wall:



Sand
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09 Mar 2010, 7:44 pm

bhetti wrote:
Sand wrote:
If it's not radioactive energy it probably is chemical energy and if enough chemical energy is released it comes out as either heat or an increase in volume or both. An explosive does this as does a match which is not quite so spectacular. Nitrogen iodide is a rather neat explosive made by soaking iodine crystals in a solution of ammonia. Or tincture of iodine dropped into an ammonia solution probably will precipitate out nitrogen iodide as a black sludge. It is quite safe while wet but once it dries even a light breeze can set it off as an explosion. I did this for fun as a teenager.

oh wow, that sounds like fun. I'm going to go read up about it. it might too dangerous for a graphic novel for a little girl since the protagonist has to use it to fuel her vehicle in a world without petroleum and I don't want my daughter getting the idea that it's safe to carry around.

I suppose I am looking for a chemical energy reaction of some kind, so that gives me a good place to start in educating myself. I think I'd prefer dealing with a heat reaction over an explosive reaction although I could see uses for both in my story.

damn my mother for convincing me to avoid science :wall:


See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_triiodide

Incidentally, the most common controlled chemical released energy is simple combustion. Burning anything is chemical energy release.



bhetti
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09 Mar 2010, 11:02 pm

I have so many questions to ask but first I'd better understand the basics of the types of energy (radioactice, chemical) and the effects of their release. maybe I can be more coherent once I've grasped those.

thanks for setting me on a track!



Sand
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10 Mar 2010, 1:34 am

bhetti wrote:
I have so many questions to ask but first I'd better understand the basics of the types of energy (radioactice, chemical) and the effects of their release. maybe I can be more coherent once I've grasped those.

thanks for setting me on a track!


Natural radioactivity such as that from radium, radon, thorium, uranium etc. consists of the spontaneous emission of atomic particles such as protons (alpha particles), electrons (beta particles) and high frequency electromagnetic radiation (gamma radiation). they all can have deleterious effects on organic creatures and should be avoided.Fission such as used in the atomic bomb occurs when neutrons split U235 atoms (a scarce variety of the general U238 which does not fission) releasing energy plus more neutrons which intensify the process. It is nothing to fool with.

The thermite process is rather interesting. It consists of a mix of iron oxide particles and powdered magnesium. Powdered magnesium is highly inflammable and once it starts to burn it is difficult to put out. It was the basis for fire bombs in WWII and if sprayed with water while burning the magnesium steals the oxygen from the water and releases hydrogen which can burn explosively in open air.It must be doused with sand.The mix is useful in repairing broken railroad rails as the process steals the oxygen from the iron oxide leaving molten iron which can weld a cracked rail.



bhetti
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10 Mar 2010, 6:41 pm

oh yeah! I love it when Mythbusters blow stuff up with thermite. I forgot all about thermite. I could never be an explosives expert, I guess.

more to add to my reading list! Sand, you are a font of information.

I'm feeling a bit obsessed with thermite now....



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10 Mar 2010, 7:56 pm

Lead and acid can make a decent battery, which is an electrochemical reactor.
I remember using lemon juice as the acid, soaked up in cloth, with two
sheets of lead on either side, and after charging it made 2 volts that ran a LED
flashlight and maybe a motor for an impressive time. It has to be reasonably
pure lead though.

If I recall correctly, EPSOM SALT will dehydrate if cooked.
It will then get hot when it is dripped on.
It may get TOO HOT, so be careful.
Other things do that too, I'm not sure about baking soda.
Copper Sulfate does if you can find it.

A certain allegedly dangerous compound nh2no3 gets COLD instead.
But COLD is not energy. Might be useful for peltier junctions as a
source of electricity activated by water, since those are thermoelectric.

Quartz crystals are piezoelectric. I am not sure if they are what's used
in grill start buttons, which make small but very shocking sparks.
Rochelle salt is also piezoelectric but I have no idea where it comes from.
I think it is used in those brass discs in musical greeting cards , but they
also generate electricity with vibration, no where near enough to
shock or do useful work though.

Google the formula for lightsticks. All I remember is oxalic acid (poison!)
and fluorescent ink but there is one more ingredient at least.

Magic wand = magnet + magnetic switch (reed relay, etc) or something else

Highlighter pen on yellow surface = blacklight activated invisible ink

Verdigris (green rust on old copper wire etc) makes candle fire blue-green

Magnets can be used for fake PK effects

Laser pointers look like jedi lightsabers in smoke or fog

LED light bulbs and coin batteries (Radio Shack), placed under a glasses of liquid
can look magical or radioactive.

Sheets of glow in the dark stuff can be drawn on or written on with blue LEDs,
temporarily.

There is a magneticorheological(?) fluid made of oil and metal particles,
which looks like a weird alien creature when it is in a plate and a magnet
is moved under the plate.

A strong magnet falls very slowly through a copper pipe.

I'll post if I think of any more. Sorry I know more electricity than chemistry.
If that's OK then I can think of a lot more.



bhetti
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10 Mar 2010, 8:31 pm

wow, you are full of fun facts!

piezoelectric crystals might actually be what I want. I don't understand the math at all, but if I can get a basic grasp on how it works, it would solve all my problems.

more research!! !

thanks ValMikeSmith!

I am really very happy right now. I have no one to talk to about these things except my husband and he is totally into it but not a chemist so can only give me suggestions sometimes, so you guys really rock for giving me so much information.



Sand
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10 Mar 2010, 10:15 pm

bhetti wrote:
wow, you are full of fun facts!

piezoelectric crystals might actually be what I want. I don't understand the math at all, but if I can get a basic grasp on how it works, it would solve all my problems.

more research!! !

thanks ValMikeSmith!

I am really very happy right now. I have no one to talk to about these things except my husband and he is totally into it but not a chemist so can only give me suggestions sometimes, so you guys really rock for giving me so much information.


The piezoelectric effect occurs in quartz crystals and in a ceramic barium titanate and probably in other crystals. When squeezed they produce electricity and when subject to electricity they change shape. When the crystals are shaped to a particular thinness they vibrate under electrical stimulation to a strict resonant frequency and are the crystals used to standardize and maintain radio transmitter broadcast frequencies. The ceramic barium titanite performs the same way and can be shaped to create a tight beam of sound waves in water and are used in sonar services and in ultra-frequency generators for cleaning and cutting and welding plastics. I have never heard of the piezoelectric-electric effect used in power generation.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piezoelectricity



dtoxic
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12 Mar 2010, 3:58 am

You have an interesting task ahead of you. I am a writer with significant chemistry background and have attempted something similar. The key (which you seem to have a handle on) is assessing your target audience in order to get the right blend of scientific plausibility with story value. You can get so deep into the science that you'll get high marks from your local chemistry professor but put your kid to sleep in a sea of equations and factoids. For a very young audience I would almost go the opposite route - let it all be magic and stay vague about the science In order to tell a better story. In fact that works for all ages from the literary standpoint - Tolkien never even tried to address the science of invisibility regarding the One Ring, but I love those books and the chemist in me doesn't care at all how it worked.
But I understand your desire to find a middle ground, and like I said I've tried. I abandoned the project I started, unable to really decide who my audience was going to be.
I've always been fascinated by oxidizers and spontaneously combustible substances. Alkali metals react furiously with water, in some cases causing an explosion (lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, cesium). Chlorates are tricky and unstable. They do not burn per se, but heat will decompose them - and they give off pure oxygen, which will violently feed any fire already in progress. Chlorates mixed with any finely divided fuel or contaminant (powdered metals, hydrocarbons, ammonium compounds, sawdust or leaf litter) become a spontaneously combustible mixture, which can ignite due to friction or even too much exposure to ultraviolet light. Contaminated chlorates have been responsible for many a fireworks factory explosion. A shock sensitivity scale was established by chemists a long time ago for various explosives. They were rated on how easily they exploded when beaten by a hammer against an anvil. The most sensitive explosive on this scale was a mixture of barium chlorate and picric acid (trinitrophenol), which is nearly as unstable as the nitrogen triiodide previously mentioned.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote a short horror story involving astronauts in which their use of potassium chlorate cubes to generate oxygen inside the space suit was a plausible plot device. I forget the name of the story though.



Sand
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12 Mar 2010, 7:54 pm

bhetti
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12 Mar 2010, 11:39 pm

thanks for sharing your experience, dtoxic. I'm a bit enamored with the combustibles but to make my daughter happy I'm going to have to settle for magic. she came up with a flawless logical argument as to why I should do so, and I'm currently unable to refute her argument with anything other than "but.... but.... science is cool!".

still, I'm going to work some elementary chemistry in somehow. I haven't read up on the piezoelectric effect yet, still thinking it might give me a way to introduce some concepts at least. I'll just keep working on the story and reading about the things that have been tossed my way. so many good ideas!

I know exactly who my target audience is, so I have a bit of an advantage I think, plus I have an in-house creative consultant who's not at all shy about telling me whether she likes my work or thinks it's lame :roll: she's been giving her stamp of approval to the story-line the whole way until we hit the science vs. magic bump.

...

OMG Sand that article is so cool! I didn't see the link until I had written the above.



Sand
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18 Mar 2010, 10:42 pm

This item from Slashdot might interest you.

"Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that a mix of zinc oxide crystals, water, and noise pollution can efficiently produce hydrogen without the need for a dirty catalyst like oil. To generate the clean hydrogen, researchers produced a new type of zinc oxide crystals that absorb vibrations when placed in water. The vibrations cause the crystals to develop areas with strong positive and negative charges — a reaction that rips the surrounding water molecules and releases hydrogen and oxygen. The mechanism, dubbed the piezoelectrochemical effect, converts 18% of energy from vibrations into hydrogen gas (compared to 10% from conventional piezoelectric materials), and since any vibration can produce the effect, the system could one day be used to generate power from anything that produces noise — cars whizzing by on the highway, crashing waves in the ocean, or planes landing at an airport."