Experiments You Can Do at Home - But Probably Shouldn't

Chapter 5
Heavy Metal » Turning Beach Sand to Steel

Turning Beach Sand to Steel

Light a batch of thermite and you get iron so white-hot, it can weld railroad ties. In high school, my social studies teacher talked about a substance that could generate heat so intense that a bag of it lit on the hood of a car would melt right through the engine block. Cool, eh? A Vietnam vet, he said that in the war they used blankets of the stuff to destroy sensitive equipment before capture by melting it into a puddle. (Putting holes in the odd jeep engine was just for fun.)

The substance was thermite, which I assumed was a complicated, exotic explosive developed by the military. Turns out it is exotic, but for the opposite reasons: It's incredibly simple, it's incendiary not explosive, and its main application is in building train tracks, not melting spy gear.

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