. Why can ice, water and steam co-exist at "triple point"? — CL
Let's start with three simpler problems: the coexistences of ice and water, of water and steam, and of ice and steam. Each pair of phases can coexist whenever the water molecules leaving one phase are replaced at an equal rate by water molecules leaving the second phase. This isn't as hard as it sounds. In ice water, the water molecules leaving the ice cubes for the liquid are replaced at an equal rate by water molecules leaving the liquid for the ice cubes. In a sealed bottle of mineral water, the water molecules leaving the liquid for the water vapor above it are replaced at an equal rate by water molecules leaving the water vapor for the liquid. And in an old-fashioned non-frostfree freezer with a tray of ice cubes, the water molecules leaving the ice cubes for the water vapor around them are replaced at an equal rate by water molecules leaving the water vapor for the ice cubes.
In each case, there is some flexibility in temperature—these coexistence conditions can be reached over at least a small range of temperature by varying the pressure on the system. In fact, at 0.03° C and a pressure of 6.11 torr; pure water, pure ice, and pure steam can coexist as a threesome. At this triple point, water molecules will be moving back and forth between all three phases but without producing any net change in the amount of ice, water, or steam.
. Why does cold water defrost things faster than hot water? — BS, Chicago, IL
I can't think of any situation in which what you say would be true. Hot water should always defrost things faster than cold water. That's because the rate of heat flow between two objects always increases as the temperature difference between them increases. When you put frozen food in hot water, heat flows into that food faster than it would from cold water because the temperature difference is larger.
. Why does water sound loudest just before it reaches the boiling point, and then why does it get quieter once it actually boils? — KS
When you heat water on the stove, heat flows into the water from below and the water at the bottom of the pot becomes a little hotter than the water above it. As a result, the water at the bottom of the pot boils first and its steam bubbles begin to rise up through the cooler water above. As they rise, these steam bubbles cool and collapse—they are crushed back into liquid water by the ambient air pressure. These collapsing steam bubbles are noisy. When the water finally boils throughout, the steam bubbles no longer collapse as they rise and simply pop softly at the surface of the liquid.
. Will ice cubes made out of heavy water (water that is rich in the heavy isotopes of hydrogen) sink to the bottom of a glass of water? — RN, Denmark
Yes. Heavy water ice is about 1% more dense than liquid water at its melting temperature of 3.82° C. I wouldn't recommend drinking large amounts of heavy water, but you could make sinking ice cubes out of it.
. How does a CD player pause a CD if the CD continues to turn? — BC, Oxon, England
A CD player reads ahead of the sound it is playing so that it always has sound information from at least one full turn of the disc in its memory. It has to read ahead as part of the error correcting process—the sound information associated with one moment in time is actually distributed around the spiral rather than squeezed into one tiny patch. This reading ahead is particularly important for a portable CD player, which usually saves several seconds of sound information in its memory so that it will have time to recover if its optical system is shaken out of alignment. When you pause the CD player, it reads ahead until its memory is full and then lets its optical system hover while the disc continues to turn. When you unpause the player, it uses the sound information it has saved in its memory to continue where it left off and its optical system resumes the reading ahead process.
. In instructions for cleaning CDs, it always specifies cleaning the CD by wiping radially from the center out. Why does it matter? — AB, Toronto, Canada
Whenever you wipe a CD to clean it, there is a chance that you will scratch its surface. If that scratch is wide enough, it may prevent the player's optical system from reading the data recorded beneath it and this loss of data may make the CD unplayable. It turns out that tangential scratches are much more serious than radial scratches. When the scratch is radial (extending outward from the center of the disc to its edge), the player should still be able to reproduce the sound without a problem. That's because sound information is recorded in a spiral around the disc and there is error-correcting information included in each arc shaped region of this spiral. Since a radial scratch only destroys a small part of each arc it intersects, the player can use the error correcting information to reproduce the sound perfectly.
But when the scratch is tangential (extending around the disc and along the spiral), it may prevent the player from reading a large portion of an arc. If the player is unable to read enough of the arc to perform its error correcting work, it can't reproduce the sound. That's why a tangential scratch can ruin a CD much more easily than a radial scratch can. That's why you should never wipe a CD tangentially. Always clean them by wiping from the center out.
. A center punch is a device used in extricating people from cars. You put tape over the glass window you want to pop, place the center punch in the corner of that window, and simply press inward. This does something that causes the glass to crack in a spider web pattern. The glass sticks to the tape, you push in enough glass to get your hand through, and knock the rest outward. This technique works on any window except the front windshield, which is 3 layers(glass, plastic, glass). Can you explain it? — RSG, Boston, Massachusetts
A center punch is a common tool used to dent a surface prior to drilling. The drill bit follows the pointed dent and the hole ends up passing right through it. But in the situation you describe, the center punch is being used to damage the surface of a car window. When you push the handle of the center punch inward, you are compressing a spring and storing energy. A mechanism inside the center punch eventually releases that spring and allows it to push a small metal cylinder toward the tip of the punch. This cylinder strikes the tip of the punch and pushes it violently into the glass. The glass chips.
In normal glass, this chipping would be barely noticeable. But the side and rear windows of a car are made of tempered glass—glass that has been heat processed in such a way that its surfaces are under compression and its body is under tension. Tempering strengthens the glass by making it more resistant to tearing. But once an injury gets through the compressed surface of the tempered glass and enters the tense body, the glass rips itself apart. The spider web pattern of tearing you observe is a feature of the tempered glass, not the center punch. Any deep cut or chip in the tempered glass will cause this "dicing fracture" to occur.
. Can you get a suntan or sunburn through glass? — SD, Farmington, Utah
Yes, but not as quickly as without the glass. While glass absorbs short wavelength ultraviolet light, it does pass 350 to 400 nanometer ultraviolet. While this longer wavelength ultraviolet is less harmful than the shorter wavelength variety, you can still tan or burn if you get enough exposure. Glass is like sunscreen—it protects you pretty well but it isn't perfect.
. Is glass in a gaseous state, a liquid state or a solid state? If I remember back to my freshman college year, it seems my prof said it was in a highly viscous state; therefore a liquid. — GC, Garland, Texas
The answer to that question is complicated—glass is neither a normal liquid nor a normal solid. While the atoms in glass are essentially fixed in place like those in a normal solid, they are arranged in the disorderly fashion of a liquid. For that reason, glass is often described as a frozen liquid—a liquid that has cooled and thickened to the point where it has become rigid. But calling glass a liquid, even a frozen one, implies that glass can flow. Liquids always respond to stresses by flowing. Since unheated glass can't flow in response to stress, it isn't a liquid at all. It's really an amorphous or "glassy" solid—a solid that lacks crystalline order.
. Sometimes on television a high pitched noise breaks the windows in a house. I know that tubular objects such as wine glasses will break when the frequency corresponds to the natural frequencies of the glass, but does flat sheet glass such as windows experience this same effect? — RF, Jackson, Michigan
In real life, only explosive sounds will break normal glass. That's because normal glass vibrates poorly and has no strong natural frequencies. You can see this by tapping a glass window or cup—all you hear is a dull "thunk" sound.
For an object to vibrate strongly in response to a tone, that object must exhibit a strong natural resonance and the tone's pitch must be perfectly matched to the frequency of that resonance. A crystal wineglass vibrates well and emits a clear tone when you tap it. If you listen to the pitch of that tone and then sing it loudly, you can make the wineglass vibrate. A crystal windowpane would also have natural resonances and would vibrate in response to the right tones. But it would take very loud sound at exactly the right pitch to break this windowpane. A few extraordinary voices have been able to break crystal wineglasses unassisted (i.e., without amplification) and it would take such a voice to break the crystal windowpane.