The Professor and the Fiver

Small children are not the only destructive creatures. In fact, most of us love a challenge. So it was a dead cinch someone would take the Bank of England on, on the subject of its ‘much more durable’ plastic banknotes. However, Auger must first mention our coinage is the property of the government. Thus it is probably another dead cinch there is a law against disfiguring it.

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The prof who took up the challenge was Sir Martyn Poliakoff CBE CChem FRS FRSC FIChemE. Among his claims to fame narrated on his Wikipedia Page are proving the FIFA World Cup Trophy could not be solid gold, or else nobody could hold it above their head.

Prof Martin’s counter to the Bank of England’s claim was just as logical. He froze a fiver solid with liquid nitrogen, put it on its side, and broke it into bits with a blunt-headed hammer. In this instance, he thoughtfully provided the specimen for research, as “you can’t spend university money on things like this”.

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Finally, just to prove the point, he submerged the bits in a mix of dinitrogen tetroxide and nitric acid. After the images faded and floated off, he lit the transparent propylene rectangle – by now as chemically high as a kite – with spectacular results.

“It went with a real whoosh,” he says. “And what was particularly interesting, it burned without any ash at all … so we have a really nice farewell to the old paper bank note. It just disappears into thin air.”

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