When Science Goes Wrong

Sometimes, science just doesn’t go as planned….

We were tasked to test the functionality of a Biolite stove, which was recently acquired for the northern extension of our testing facilities.

Since simply firing something up and going “yup, that works”, isn’t quite good enough for us, we wanted to test this little camping stove a little more rigorously. Specifically, we planned on heating an equal volume of water both on the kitchen stove, and then on the Biolite, to compare temperature trends and how long it took to reach boiling.

Unfortunately, science sometimes doesn’t go as planned… apparently, the electrical stove decided that today would be an excellent time to arc, do some impromptu welding, and melt a hole through the stainless steel vessel that was holding our water.

This pot has ceased to be a useful holder of fluids.

This pot has ceased to be a useful holder of fluids. The binder clip was used to hold the temperature probe off the bottom of the pan.

Needless to say, we quickly flipped the electrical main, followed that up with a quick trip to hit the shut-up-button on the smoke detector, and then made the rounds to open windows & doors to ventilate (this welding process, and resultant metal vaporization, produced some mighty-funky odors). As our liter of water had dribbled out of the pan, through the stove, and ended up in the under-stove storage bin and the floor, there was some additional water clean-up. Once the element was cool, it was removed from the stove and taken outside for inspection.

The failure spot is where it attempted to weld itself to the pot.

The failure spot is where it attempted to weld itself to the stainless steel pot.

Due to the ancient nature of the stove, removing the element left three wires just hanging out in the ether. Given that there was now little trust for the electrical stability of this appliance, the individual breaker for the stove was flipped to keep electrons out of the stove’s reach, before the main was put back into resume-power-mode for the rest of the building.

The entire element with failure point visible.

The entire element with failure point visible.

Due to this dramatic, and unplanned for failure, science was called to a halt for the day. The Biolite camping stove will be tested sometime in the future, and new heating curves for water on an electric stove  will have to be obtained at the Primary Testing Facility so we have data to compare against. Data collected during this attempt tells an interesting story, but will not be good for accurate comparisons:

A temperature curve and mini-timeline of experiment failure.

A temperature curve and mini-timeline of experiment failure.

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