Monthly Archives: August 2014

Liquid nitrogen

Roughly the same cost (weight for weight) as a pint of milk, it’s a common feature in science fiction films: the nitrogen dewar in the background that might at some point be used to freeze that alien chasing you down the corridor…

But how much liquid nitrogen would it actually take to do this?

Hint: Assume the creature weighs about 50kg and has a heat capacity of 2000 J/K/kg. Liquid nitrogen has a temperature of 77K and latent heat of 199 kJ/kg. For arguments sake, let’s say the creature becomes vulnerable at 250K…

Now let’s add another complication: the Leidenfrost effect. As a coolant, the low boiling point of liquid nitrogen (77K) typically means that it will boil off so fast on contact with another object much hotter than it, that a ‘protective’ layer of air is formed. This will insulate said object from the cooling effects of the liquid nitrogen, for example preventing cold burns for anyone crazy enough to stick their hand in a bucket of liquid nitrogen for a second or two. CAUTION: This effect will not stop you from getting burnt as more nitrogen is added.

For more see Wikipedia entry for liquid nitrogen

Fleming’s Left Hand Rule

Any charged particle moving through a magnetic field will experience a force that will cause it to move in a particular direction. An easy way to remember the direction of this force is Fleming’s Left Hand Rule (where the direction of current is the direction in which positive charges move).

Illustration of Fleming's Left Hand Rule

Illustration of Fleming’s Left Hand Rule

So for the example above, a positive particle moving into a uniform magnetic field experiences a force that pushes it up away from the magnetic field. This “motion” of the charged particle is due to the magnetic field that the moving charge makes, interacting with the magnetic field it is moving through (just like two magnets can repel each other).

We can use this rule to figure out the direction in which the rotating arm of a motor will move.


This effect is used to define the standard international (S.I.) unit of magnetic field – the Tesla.

1 Tesla = the value of magnetic field (B) that causes a force of 1 Newton to act on a 1 meter length of conductor (i.e. copper) carrying a current of 1 Ampere at right angles to the magnetic field.