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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

The magic of magnetizing air

One of the HYPER lab’s favorite demonstrations for visitors is magnetizing air — yes, the stuff you’re breathing can be magnetized. We play around before these demos and come up with amazing ideas, and we’ve got patent-pending technology to prove it.

Here’s what you’ll need to do this:

Support a small metal container over a surface. In the picture above we’re using a thin-walled stainless steel beaker and a test-tube stand.
Fill the metal container with liquid nitrogen (make sure you’re following all necessary safety precautions before handling liquid nitrogen).
Because the normal boiling point temperature of liquid nitrogen (~77 K) is … » More …

Common Cryogenic Copper Confusions

I made these mistakes when I was learning. Just about every student in my lab has made them too. It’s all too common to have cryogenic copper confusion. It ends here.

The root of the confusion lies in the heat transfer promised land, as illustrated by the below chart of thermal conductivity of copper at cryogenic temperatures. An even better comparison than this chart is in Jack Ekin’s FANTASTIC book that is absolutely required reading for my lab: “Experimental Techniques for Low Temperature Measurement” Jack is so wonderful he’s even posted the figures openly available for people to access on-line and his thermal conductivity … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: Explaining the Bubonic Plague and Rennaissance

The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, is generally considered one of the most empathy generating, and wealth redistributing events in human history. Dr. Chuck has a nice article about how this led to the Enlightenment. In a recent post on the Social Thermodynamics of Wealth Distribution, I discussed how Walter Scheidel, a renown author and Professor of History at Stanford University used the Black Death as one of the key examples in his recent book “The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century.” This event is one of a handful … » More …

So just how dangerous is hydrogen fuel?

When I tell people I work on hydrogen fuel, they immediately say something very wrong like, “Are you worried about a mushroom cloud over your lab?” — Mushroom clouds are from a nuclear bomb detonation, and I don’t plan on starting thermonuclear fusion anytime soon in my lab, and if I did, it might save the planet. The other statement I often get is, “Wow, don’t want another Hindenberg!” Again, very wrong. Detailed studies from NASA and others have shown that the … » More …

Using design theory to explain the future of football

[Note: This post was adapted in January 2020 to reflect WSU’s hiring of Nick Rolovich.]

It didn’t make sense but I ran my assignment anyways. But I was just a lineman in high-school. I picked up the linebacker I was assigned to, only to watch another make the play. I was frustrated. So in the middle of practice, I stopped the whole team and did the mutinous act of questioning the coach. “Coach, can you help me understand this because I’m missing something.” I went through all of the assignments of the players on that side of the field. “Why am I not picking up … » More …

The HYPER lab tube fitting guide

This post summarizes the use of Swagelok® Tube Fittings, which are used extensively in the HYPER lab. If you’re already familiar with tube fittings, you may want to skip to the best practices at the bottom. Most of this guide is pulled directly from “An Installer’s Pocket Guide for Swagelok® Tube Fittings.” If you haven’t read this already, you should! We have several physical copies around the lab.

 

What is a tube fitting?

Swagelok® Tube Fittings are also referred to … » More …

Cryogenic Seals using Indium

Finding a way to seal small, mobile molecules such as hydrogen and helium at cryogenic temperatures can be quite difficult. Most common seals break down at such cold temperatures, and even a tiny leak path can be catastrophic when working with flammable gasses and temperatures that can freeze the oxygen right out of the air. Luckily, we have wonder element 49: Indium. High purity indium has a lower melting point, and hardness than lead, making it malleable enough to be an effective sealing material. In addition, at high purities, indium readily pressure welds to itself, and bonds to other metals, glass, and ceramics.

In the … » More …

Making a Cryogenic-compatible O-ring seal

One issue that I ran up against while re-designing CHEF for my thesis research was the connection point on the hydrogen liquefaction tanks. I decided to use VCR connectors because of their reliability at vacuum and low temperatures, this meant that a VCR connection directly to the tank would be easiest for design and build. As all VCR connections, off the shelf, are made of stainless steel, and the liquefier tanks were made from Aluminum (because of thermal concerns), welding a connector directly on was not an option. NPT connections were another possibility, but ultimately not chosen for fear of leakage at low temperatures. Luckily, … » More …

The colors of hydrogen

Hydrogen has signature colors that appear when the atoms are excited. This image from NASA-Ames shows a hydrogen arc lamp fluorescing:

Neils Bohr used the emission spectra of hydrogen to develop his model of the atom. In short, quantized energy levels release specific bands of light with unique colors. A description of the physics is here. Here are the corresponding colors and electron transitions:

The Colors of Hydrogen

I used this handy converter to go from emission wavelength to RGB color code.

Why equilibrium hydrogen doesn’t exist

As you already know, hydrogen is unique among fluids for a number of reasons. I like to introduce one of these key differences from the historical perspective:

In 1932, Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in physics “for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, inter alia, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen.” These allotropic forms of hydrogen called orthohydrogen and parahydrogen exist due to parity between the nuclear spin and rotational spin function for the hydrogen molecule. Orthohydrogen is a higher energy triplet restricted to odd rotational energy levels (J = 1,3,5…) and parahydrogen is a lower … » More …