Cold As Ice

April 26, 2011

Post by Jonathan Barnes

Last week I had the distinct privilege of going to the longest local name in the state of Ohio, Washington Courthouse. It might not be the actual longest name in Ohio, but it felt like it as I was writing it down in my daily COSI truck log.

However, I digress.

Last Tuesday marked a particularly rainy, cold, and humid day for the residents of the WC and I was appropriately cold and/or wet whenever I went outside. Usually this isn’t much of a problem for an Outreach Educator, as we spend most of our time inside a school’s gym or cafeteria, edutaining the masses yearning to breathe in the science goodness which we magnanimously distribute.

The “Launch Into Space” program is a bit different, however, as it requires the Educator to get a thermos full of liquid nitrogen before the beginning of the day’s assembly.

For those not in the know, liquid nitrogen is incredibly cold… ridiculously cold, in fact. It’s 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. For those who remember James Cameron’s one, true masterpiece, “Terminator 2”, you might remember liquid nitrogen as the stuff that froze the dreaded T-1000, prompting zee Governator to speak the iconic phrase, “Hasta la vista, baby.”

So, it goes without much more elaboration that liquid nitrogen is pretty cold. Last Tuesday presented a unique set of atmospheric circumstances that befuddled me for the first time. As I attempted to fill the thermos with the liquid nitrogen, I noticed that the valve was a bit hard to turn. Now this was the beginning of my travel week and the truck had been sitting in our Bat-Cave-like COSI truck lot all weekend, so I didn’t think much of it. After about a minute, the thermos was full and I went to close the valve again.

…but budge, it did not.

Try as I might, I could not turn off the nitrogen. The confluence of a cold, humid day with the hyper-cold nitrogen had caused the valve to freeze OPEN. After struggling for a few minutes, I decided it was time for desperate measures. I charged back into the gymnasium, grabbed my gloves and propane blow torch and marched back out to the truck, which appeared to be vomiting a cloud from the cargo hold.

I approached the tank and, with one last reserve of my herculean nerd-rage strength, grabbed the valve with both hands and got it to budge… a quarter inch. Another twenty seconds of struggle produced another quarter inch of progress. After what seemed like an eternity, the tank valve was close, the day was saved… and my nitrogen tank was empty.

To make matters better, it was so humid in the gym that my nitrogen cup actually froze to my glove… much to the delight of all of the second graders at Cherry Hill Primary.



  1. I can’t seem to fully load this post from my iphone!

  2. Actually, it -320 degrees C

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