The reaction of alkali metals with water is something we’re all very familiar with, and I’m sure most of you have watched a lump of sodium being dropped into a dish of water at school. It’s very basic chemistry and the science behind the explosive outcome is very well understood…right?
Apparently not! As this article on the Nature News website explains, new research into the reaction suggests all may not be as it seems! What we all thought was the simple ignition of the liberated hydrogen formed in the reaction is something far more bizarre.
What researcher Pavel Jungworth and co-workers found is that the sodium atoms rapidly dispel electrons on contact with water, and the resulting cations repel each other to give a Coulomb explosion.
Research such as this shows us that chemistry that we all think is well understood may still have secrets to be revealed, and something that we all thought was high school science is a lot more complex than we realised!