During this season’s recent cold snap, your social media feeds were no doubt filled with people playing around with the “boiling water challenge.” The viral phenomenon sees people head out to the sub-zero outdoors with a pan of boiling water, fling it up into the air, and watch it turn into a dazzling display of icy mist.
While it might look like some highly-Instgrammable yet harmless fun, doctors are now warning that the experiment can also earn you a trip to the emergency room.
Seven people were treated for second-degree burns and one person with third-degree burns at a hospital in Chicago as a result of one attempt gone wrong, reports ABC 7 News. One of the patients might even need to undergo surgery to treat the burns.
"We strongly warn people to not perform the boiling water challenge," Dr Arthur Sanford, a burn surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"There is no safe way to do it."
“The gamut runs from essentially being burned from hot liquid to being exposed to the cold air,” added Dr Jeff Schaider, chairman of emergency medicine at Cook County Health in Chicago, according to The Epoch Times. “If your hand has water on it, that freezes pretty quick. That’s a bigger risk, actually.”
Look, if you are going to do it (at your own risk) then make sure you throw the water well away from yourself and other people. Always remember that you are effectively just chucking around a pot of boiling water, so act accordingly.
Despite its dangers, the challenge is a pretty neat little demonstration of the Mpemba effect, the observation that hot water can freeze faster than cold water. Throwing cold water into the air won’t work as it won’t freeze in time, however, boiling hot water will as its temperature is able to drop significantly faster, turning it into a snow-like mist.
Remarkably, scientists don’t have a clear explanation for this effect, although there are a few theories. One idea is that hot water has a faster rate of evaporation, reducing the volume left to freeze, while another suggests that different concentrations of dissolved gasses, such as carbon dioxide, could affect cooling rates. Equally, one theory highlights that warm water might cool quicker due to increased convection currents. One of the latest theories on the matter argues it’s all to do with the covalent bonds that hold water together.
Regardless of Mpemba’s mystery, remember to stay safe out there, folks.