Imagine working at a steel mill. You somehow landed a job. It’s your first day, and you are assigned to the forge. Alright, let’s make some metal.
You try to show off your expert smithing skills to your coworkers but, unfortunately, you slip and fall into a pool of molten metal. Whoops. How could the type of molten metal determine your fate?
Could the Leidenfrost effect help you survive? What kind of thermal suit could protect you?
The three most common forms of molten metal are zinc, lead and steel. You might be surprised to know that both lead & zinc become liquified at temperatures much lower than a typical campfire.
Lead becomes molten at around 328 °C (622 °F), and zinc at 420 °C (787 °F). Liquid iron, on the other hand, occurs at a scorching 1,535 °C (2,795 °F). If you happen to fall into any of these molten metals, it’s going to hurt no matter what. So is there any way to survive this?
Although your chances of staying alive are very slim, you might be able to make it out alive if you got caught in the rain beforehand. Having a wet body might protect you, well, briefly. This is the Leidenfrost effect. If a liquid comes in contact with a surface hotter than the liquid’s boiling point, it will produce a layer of insulating vapor. This, for example, causes the skittering effect of water on a hot pan.
Because molten metal is so much hotter than the boiling point of water, the outer layer of moisture on your skin would instantly vaporize and create a coating. But this only protects you for a short amount of time. So please, don’t get any ideas like this guy.
Liquid metal is about seven times denser than the human body. So if you fell in, you wouldn’t sink. At the very least, someone would see your body before you became forged into an anvil or something.
If you had a protective suit on, you could potentially float and wade your way to safety. Suits used in powerplants with aluminized outer shells reflect 95% of radiant heat and can withstand temperatures up to 1,650 °C (3,000 °F).
But these suits only work well when exposed to high air temperatures. If you submerge them in molten metal, well, they would catch fire instantly, cooking you like a baked potato. However, if you happened to upgrade your suit with hafnium carbide, which can withstand temperatures of up to 4,000 °C (7,232 °F), you might stand a chance.
But even if you managed to climb your way out, there might be repercussions to your health afterward, like lead poisoning. Side-effects may include nausea, diarrhea, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, mood disorders, and death. Although falling into a pool of molten metal would be severely painful, our pain receptors overload at temperatures above 60 °C (140 °F) and become numb. So, I guess that’s somewhat comforting.
We won’t get into all the gory details here, but your chances of survival are slim to none. You would be burned to a crisp. Even robots from the future wouldn’t stand a chance.
So, please, don’t try this home, or, well, anywhere. Accidents like these do happen but can be avoided with proper safety precautions. But what about taking a dip in other liquid metals at lower temperatures? Could we wade in a pool of liquid mercury unscathed? Don’t worry, pool nerds. We got you covered.
- “The Melting Points Of Metals | Metal Supermarkets – Steel, Aluminum, Stainless, Hot-Rolled, Cold-Rolled, Alloy, Carbon, Galvanized, Brass, Bronze, Copper”. 2020. Metal Supermarkets – Steel, Aluminum, Stainless, Hot-Rolled, Cold-Rolled, Alloy, Carbon, Galvanized, Brass, Bronze, Copper.
- “The Essential Toxin: Impact Of Zinc On Human Health”. Plum, Laura M., Lothar Rink, and Hajo Haase. 2010. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health 7 (4): 1342-1365. doi:10.3390/ijerph7041342.
- “Lead Poisoning – Symptoms And Causes”. 2021. Mayo Clinic.
- “What Is The Melting Point Of Iron?”. reference.com.
- “Iron Poisoning Basics”. Webmd.
- “A Few Cool Leidenfrost Effect Science Demonstrations To Try”. Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. 2021. Thoughtco.