27 July 2011

Splitting the Atom and Freezing to Death

“God, I’m so bloody cold! I really don’t know how you can stand it!” screamed Gerry, breath exploding into a small cloud that froze and tinkled onto the deck. “Look! That can’t be good.”
“No, not good at all,” said the Berg.
“All this energy locked up around me too. If I had some magic power… If I could just split one measly atom I’d be warm as toast.”
“No, I did the numbers on that,” said the Berg dejectedly. “The phrase ‘splitting the atom’ is all very exciting, but really, you’re just getting a lot of atoms to move from one state to another - transmuting them - in fusion from hydrogen to helium, and liberating the difference.”
“Not with my bloody magic power. I’d split it. E=MC² Total mass to bloody energy!”
The Berg shifted uncomfortably.
“Even then it doesn’t work. Take hydrogen. The mass of 1 mole of hydrogen is 1.008g. In that mole there are 6.02 x 1023 particles of hydrogen.”
“That’s a lot.”
“Indeed. So divide one by the other and you can see that the mass of a single hydrogen particle is 1.67 x 10-24g.”
“That’s not much.”
“It’s 0.00000000000000000000000167 grams.”
“Especially when you put it like that.”
“And that’s molecular hydrogen, so two actual atoms. If we’re talking about a single atom it weighs half that again. Plug that into E=MC2 and your magical power gives you 0.0000000752 joules when it splits the single hydrogen atom you’ve plucked out of the air.”
“If we convert it to calories, to warm one cubic centimetre of water by 1 degree Celsius you’d need to split around 56 million hydrogen atoms.”
“Hand me the axe.”
The Berg laughed its deep laugh. Gerry felt it in his bones. The water around the boat vibrated.
“How did you get so good at maths, anyway?”
“Wolfram Alpha – that thing’s amazing.”
“Wait, you’ve got internet?”

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