The area behind Lander University’s Science Center took on the appearance of Cape Canaveral for a short time on the morning of July 10 when a trash can rocketed high above the campus as part of a controlled demonstration showing what can happen when pressure builds in a confined space.
The event was a highlight of the physics program attended by rising 5th- through 9th-graders and part of Duke Energy’s Summer Institute with Lander. Dr. David Slimmer, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, led the weeklong program and triggered the dynamic event. First, he filled a plastic soda bottle with liquid nitrogen, capped the bottle, immersed it in a pail of water and slipped it under a vinyl trashcan. He told the students there was no telling how long it would take to explode, but he explained that the blast was triggered when the nitrogen changed to a gaseous state and created immense pressure inside the bottle. He said, “The force has to go somewhere.”
The students were moved well-away from the site for their protection and they watched as, after a few moments, the trashcan blew straight up at least 60 feet leaving a thick vapor trail in its wake. The youngsters were impressed by the explosion, one remarking, “It was like a rocket ship.”